April 25, 2021
1 John 3:16-24
“On a mound of dirt on a wind-combed prairie in northern Wyoming, the rarest mammal in North America is dancing. He prances and bucks, then stops. Then hops—forward, forward, backward, side-hop left—spins around, and dives into the hole at the center of the mound. A four-beat wait. His black bandit mask peeks over the rim. Then he flings the muscular tube of his torso out again in the prairie dawn, bounding, twisting, frisking for an audience of none.”[i]
Black-footed ferrets are curious and playful creatures. They had been a part of the landscape for nearly a million years along with their neighbors the prairie dog. The ferrets and prairie dogs practiced living in community as the ferret’s primary meal was prairie dogs and they helped keep the prairie dog population in check. Until the 1800’s when the pioneers moving out west started to clear land for crops and cattle and plowed up or poisoned the prairie dog towns. Thus, as the prairie dogs went, so did the black-footed ferret.
The connection we have with the environment goes all the way back to the beginning of creation as God brought order to chaos. In the beginning was the Word and in the Word we find an overwhelming love embracing all creation. It is a love calling us into unity with all creation because God is active in all creation. God’s love extends from the smallest particles, the building blocks of our universe as we know it, to the vast mountain range of the Himalayas. Nothing escapes God’s recognition and love.
The reading from 1 John this week continues to focus on the love of God and the reconciliation of a creation that has been led astray. We hear the commandment Jesus himself spoke to the disciples. A commandment to believe in Jesus and love one another. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures we read story after story of our ancestors falling away from this very practice. The Hebrews have warred against other nations and magnified the notion that they are better than other nations. Each prophet has stepped up to steer the Hebrews to a place of peace and justice with God. They have attempted to conquer lands that were not always theirs and taken advantage of the people and material resources. What is missing at many times is an encompassing love of neighbor and even returning the love to God.
The love extends beyond humans. The love written of in 1 John extends to all creation. A love for the prairie dog and black-footed ferret. A love for the environment giving us breath and life. We are all interconnected. If it were not for the waters, we would not have life. If it were not for the trees, we would not have enough oxygen to breath. Bees are essential for pollination and fertilization of crops. If it were not for animals and plants, we would have very few food sources. The plants and animals and ultimately, humans, are dependent upon one another in a relationship formed at the very beginning of creation.
Amid our brokenness and sin, we have failed to witness the importance of those relationships. Cain was jealous of Able and thus killed him and sin abounded. From the very beginning a focus on the individual often overruled the focus on community. The author of 1 John is reminding the recipients of the power of community and by working with one another love abounds. The relationship that we invest in each other can also be translated to our relationship with the earth.
Seeing and witnessing God in creation can be difficult. It is not concrete and to become one with nature requires effort. For some it may be easier to connect with nature than it is to connect with individuals. And of course, the opposite is true as well. Our western culture has a propensity to focus on the individual. What is in it for me? How can I make more money? How can I get everything I want? This desire to focus on the individual is easily reflected in our relationship to the earth. We think of what we need right now with disregard for how it may affect future generations. As seen in my opening example, humanity has made a practice of moving into areas and changing entire eco-cultures. Every time such action is taken, it is a step away from how God calls us to live with creation.
The words of 1 John are an invitation to live simply in this beautiful creation we have been graced to live as part of. Our goods are not our own. Our wealth and property are not completely ours. We have God to give thanks to for these gifts. The connection of the wealth of our country and many like ours have a direct connection to the environment and climate change and cannot be ignored. We must do everything we can to not cause harm to our neighbors and the very creation that we live in. Even as we choose to live simply, we must realize that we still use many more resources than our siblings in other parts of the world.
The author reminds us, loving in word and action is to believe in Jesus and truly love one another. Not just in word or speech but truly love one another in our actions. We do this by loving the very creation God has bestowed to us. We love creation through the care and protection of endangered animals. We love creation by making our voices heard when others are just trying to make a quick buck and take advantage of the earth and its resources. We love creation by caring for our neighbors at the border and those halfway around the world that hunger and seek safety.
Amid this pandemic one way to care for our neighbors is to ensure the equal distribution of COVID vaccines. While the United States and many other rich countries have had little issue with procuring vaccines, poor countries are falling far behind. A majority of the world’s population will not see vaccines until next year. This is not how we show love for our neighbors, especially when we have more than enough to vaccinate everyone in our country and there are thousands of vaccines going unused and wasted daily. We advocate for those whose voices are not being heard and seek justice for those in need. Advocating can take place for our fellow humans as well as creation.
Returning to the black-footed ferrets, we witness a relationship of love played out. A relationship in which God is very proud. A relationship with the people and the land. A restoration of both the prairie dog and black-footed ferrets is beginning. Caring for the black-footed ferret whose numbers dwindled to the point they were thought to be extinct means also caring for the prairie dogs. It is a relationship of dependence and a model for humans as we come to rely on one another in the greater global well-being. Conservationist, advocating for the land, have been able to get ranchers to respect the prairie dog, and a love for creation is revealed.
And, “What will survive of us is love.”
This closing line from Philip Larkin’s poem An Arundel Tomb speaks truth to our lives in creation. It is love and the truth and action done in love’s name that leave an impression on all we touch. It is easy for anyone to speak and claim they are going to do the next step. It is in action that truth and love is really revealed, and one becomes Christ like. God’s call for humanity to have dominion over the land in Genesis is a call to care for creation. A care for creation combined with love reveals a unity born in God. It is a unity which reveals God’s love is active in all creation, from the smallest particle to the largest mammals and mountain ranges. In this love that God calls us to word and action to care for this home we call earth. When we put this love to action, we begin to experience a new creation as the kingdom of God is revealed. May you experience this revelation through the love of your neighbors and all creation.
[i] Boss, Gayle. “Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing.” Page 47