Sermon: “Counting Our Blessings: 
God’s Beautiful Creation”

5 October 2008

Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
October 5, 2008           

“Counting Our Blessings:  God’s Beautiful Creation”

Isaiah 5:1-7
Matthew 21:33–46

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

If you’re like me at Yankee Fair time, when you’re packing boxes of donations to take over to the barn on Saturday, you’re probably careful about what you set aside to give away.  You know, that ugly little thing you never could stand to look at – your hand hesitates over it for a moment as you think, “But will my sister-in-law shop at the Yankee Fair this year? And if she does, will she figure out that I was the one who got rid of that Christmas present she was so proud to give me last December?”  When someone we love treasures something, and expects us to care for it and treasure it too, we would be wise to care for it – if not for our sake, then for theirs.

If you’ve ever been on the OTHER side of that story, as the giver of the gift, you know how it feels to see your treasure neglected.  One year our church committee really labored over choosing the best thank-you presents for Sunday School teachers.  We all studied gift catalogues until we settled on these mugs with gold scripture verses printed on them.  I think we filled them with nuts or candy or something before we gave them away, but when you got right down to it that gift was just one more odd-shaped, coffee mug to shove into the kitchen cabinet – and it wasn’t even microwave- or dishwasher-safe!  We shouldn’t have been surprised when several of those mugs ended up in the church rummage sale, but still, some on our committee admitted to having hurt feelings.

Well, these two scriptures have rich and complex histories.  I could preach several sermons for several hours, on all the issues they address.  But today I just want to focus on ONE thing they have in common (other than vineyards) – at their heart, both of them are about God’s hurt and angry feelings.  God is the Great Giver of all life, and we are the gift receivers.  As the appointed stewards of all that life – all creatures great and small – God holds us responsible for their care.  When you think about the sorry state our world is in – with polluted air and seas, with exploding human population and disappearing plant and animal species, with poverty and war widespread, giving an account for ourselves to our Heavenly Landlord becomes a very frightening prospect.  But that’s exactly why "It's Easy Being Green" was such a good theme for our Yankee Fair this year, and why we would do well to take a closer look at our stewardship of the earth today.

Both of these parables are deeply rooted in the Creation narratives in Genesis and the way that the Lord our Maker laid out for us a sparkling universe with this beautiful green and blue and white garden planet set aside for us to tend and to nurture.  We are the beloved companions of the Master Gardener, blessed children of the one Heavenly Father.  And yet, we are sadly mistaken if we believe we actually OWN God’s vineyard.  We are only the servants, or tenant farmers, of God’s lovely and fragile Creation.  We have been richly blessed, but we cannot allow ourselves to feel ENTITLED to it all.  Instead, God has every right to expect a good harvest:  What have we done with God’s beautiful creation?  What return have we for God?  What fruits have our lives on earth yielded?  On this World Communion Sunday – when all the earth is called to share at Christ’s table– we might re-evaluate our care for the planet and its living creatures. 

Used to be, we Christians tended to interpret our “dominion” over the plants and animals as a kind of free license to use, alter, and control creation however we saw fit.  Especially to our Pilgrim ancestors here in New England, we can see from the thick woodlands that still remain how they might have felt threatened by the perils of nature all around them, encroaching on their farms and families with relentless growth that sheltered both dangerous wildlife and hostile Native Americans, many of whom were less than thrilled by the use and abuse of what had been their land.  It wasn’t so long ago that our ushers carried firearms at the front door, just in case of some kind of attack from the wilderness.  And you might even see a wolf’s head nailed to the meetinghouse door, as a symbolic warning to man’s rival predator.  With the seasonal onslaught of winter back then, there was the very real possibility of starvation if a family’s livestock were wiped out by a pack on the hunt.  I think we have to be cautious not to judge our ancestors too harshly for their fears – for if our children’s lives ever were threatened by disease or starvation in sub-freezing temperatures, by wolves, or even by hostile human beings, I think we too might advocate the speedy eradication of those dangers.

But, thankfully, Christians have begun to question our old ways of thinking – that “us against them” mentality that has justified much reckless abuse of the earth in the name of “civilization.”  What we have come to learn over the centuries is that our arrogant assumptions of superior knowledge has been proved wrong again and again – as when innocent housecats were exterminated during the Black Plague in Europe, when they actually could have helped control the spread of rat-borne disease – or when deer have multiplied out of control where we have exterminated their natural predators, like wolves and mountain lions.  Rivers that we dammed up for flood control and energy for industry have threatened the survival of some fish, so that we’ve had to build for them manmade “ladders” to help them breed.  All of these environmental missteps remind us again of Adam and Eve’s “original sin” – they succumbed to the temptation to claim to KNOW good and evil.  Unlike them and unlike the “wicked tenants” in Matthew’s parable, we must resist the temptation to claim for ourselves the landlord’s role.  We are only the humble gardeners.

So how do we adjust our thinking, and our behavior, to be more in line with what God intends for us, and for the world?  Both Isaiah and Jesus, like all the prophets, were calling their nations to repentance – that is self-centered humanity were being asked to turn themselves around to see their lives from God’s perspective again.  These vineyard stories have within them dire warnings for the consequences of disobedience – and you don’t have to use much imagination to see consequences already starting to emerge for our self-centered humanity today.  Our fossil fuel supplies are diminishing as global warming continues to raise sea levels, foster killer hurricanes and floods, and threaten the survival of several animal species.  Some urban air pollution is now visible from space, and plastic garbage has been found floating in remote ocean waters around the globe.  Overpopulation, drought, and famine threaten several areas of Africa.  The earth is no longer the beloved and fruitful vineyard God created – more and more, it is looking like a tangled mess of weeds, thorns, and wild grapes.

But people all around the world are heeding our call once again to be faithful stewards of God’s beautiful creation.  Christians are starting to see the simple act of bending to pick up a piece of litter as a sacred act of devotion.  Many churches like ours have accepted the challenge of “going green” – teaching our children to care for the environment (including supporting nature education at our church camp at Silver Lake), encouraging recycling (you can put your used bulletins in the boxes the kids have decorated by the doors – over under the back coat rack and beside the Book of Remembrance in Brooks Hall), and installing energy-conserving appliances and furnaces.  But most of all, we’re doing what churches have always done – preach the Good News of God’s love for ALL the earth.  Let us thank God and count our blessings for the wonderful world entrusted into our care, and do our part to tend our corner of the Lord’s lovely and precious vineyard.  Amen.



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