“Interconnected Creation,” Rev. Nate Klug
Arlington Community Church, Jan. 27, 2019
Last week, my wife Kit and I brought our daughter Zoe to the Little Farm at Tilden Park, for the very first time. It was Martin Luther King Day afternoon, and the parking lot was swarming with families and young kids. The sun was out, after a week of rain. Everyone was smiling and in a good mood.
And Zoe is only eight months old, so we weren’t sure how she would interact with the cows and the pigs and the goats up close. And truth be told, at first, she was as fascinated with all the other human faces that were around, as she was captivated by the animals! We wandered around for a while. Then we stumbled upon a little girl, just a few years older than Zoe. The girl had a piece of celery in her hand. And she was face to face with an enormous cow.
(It’s amazing how much these animals must get fed on a crowded day at the farm! How many sticks of celery can you eat before you get tired of the flavor?)
And we watched as this girl slowly, warily extended her arm, clutching this stick of celery, like she was giving a precious gift to a king. And we watched as the cows’ big eyes grew even bigger. And it shuffled up in the mud, getting as close as it could to the gate.
And suddenly, out of nowhere, this huge tongue flicked out of the cow’s mouth. As long as the girl’s arm, it seemed. But fast, too, quick as a lizard’s tongue catching a fly. And just like that, the celery was completely gone! And the girl squealed, and she looked down at her arm, half-relieved that it was still there.
And then I looked at my daughter Zoe. And for the first time that day, her eyes were almost as big as that cow’s eyes. She had taken everything in.
In the beautiful psalm that Dennis read for us, the psalmist says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God. The sky proclaims God’s handiwork.” And that’s often true, no doubt.
But sometimes, a child’s perspective reminds us... the ongoing miracle of creation can unfold just as powerfully at eye-level. Right down near the earth. Among the mud and dead leaves and dirty boots.
One thing I love about the season that we’re in, the season of Christmas and Epiphany... is the way it brings together this sky-level glory and this mud-level messiness.
The Savior of the World is born. The king of kings is revealed....But that king comes to us from a manger, from a little shack outdoors, full of mud and hay and farm smells. And when the Magi, the wise men, come from the East to visit the baby Jesus, they bring famous fancy gifts to adore him.
But if you’re ever spent any time in a house or apartment where there’s a newborn baby, you know that gold and spices aren’t exactly the most useful materials to have at hand.
At least that’s been my experience.
No, with these stories of Christmas and Epiphany, it’s like God is reminding us...“Yes, my creation is grand. Yes, my existence is glorious. But more than that, my love is real. It’s real, for you. It’s right down among you, at eye-level. Right there, at your fingertips.”
This is the kind of love I’ve experienced in my life as a Christian, as someone who wants to follow Jesus.
It’s what made me start going to church for the first time, back when I was in college, and felt completely lost. And it’s what made me start thinking about ministry when I graduated. And it’s been the force that I’ve seen in congregations I’ve gotten to work with, in the five years that I’ve been ordained...in rural churches in Iowa, and more urban churches here in the Bay Area. And one thing that this tenacious, muddy love insists on... is that we are all in it together. We’re connected.
That’s exactly the realization I saw written on my daughter’s face, when she watched the older girl feed that cow at Tilden.
Maybe psychologists have a word for this awareness, when it dawns on us!...“That that girl’s hand, and that cow’s tongue, and that green celery grown from the dirt... they’re all part of the same world as me, little Zoe!
And if something were to happen to them, good or bad, it would affect what is happening to me.
And if something were to happen to me, it would affect what is happening to them.” And this principle seems so obvious and basic, once I say it. But the truth is that right now our country, our society, finds itself struggling to live out this inter-connectedness...
Instead of focusing on making healthcare and college more affordable, we have allowed the wealthy to get richer and richer. Instead of welcoming those who are fleeing violence and insecurity, we are trying to increase our borders. Instead of trying to restrict the amount of carbon we’re pouring into the atmosphere, we’re backing out of agreements that will affect our great grandchildren far into the future.
Yes, it sometimes seems like we adults need to re-learn a principle that is basic to the youngest creatures among us on this earth. Of course, we’re in it together! Of course “we are each other’s business,” as the poet Gwendolyn Brooks writes. “We are each other’s harvest, and each other’s bond.”
Only twenty years after Jesus died, the apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians, that we hear in our second Scripture.
I imagine Paul being in a kind of anxious mood, while he wrote it. Because the church in Corinth was already in a bit of trouble! The congregation was only a few decades old, and already challenges and conflicts were emerging.
Here is a bunch of people, Paul must have been thinking, with different backgrounds and different goals. How the heck are they going to work together? (If you’ve ever wondered this exact thing to yourself, about a community you’ve been part of, you can rest assured you have company! Finding common ground has always been part of the challenge of this life we live together). And so Paul needs to say something, to unify this group. And he chooses this brilliant metaphor of a body.
A church community is like a body, he suggests.
And as he explains in his funny way... if the foot of a body should say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong,” well that wouldn’t make any sense. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong,” that wouldn’t make any sense either. No, each part of a community is meant to contribute something different.
And like that little girl’s hand, and like that big cow’s tongue, at Tilden...each part is valuable because it contributes something different.
Think for a minute about your own body.
Think about the way your mind works after you’ve stretched your legs on a good walk. Your thoughts are suddenly clearer, more positive. Or, on the flip side, if you’ve ever had to have surgery, remember how hard it is to retrain one part of your body, when it’s not been exercised.
Putting your shirt on in the morning, eating a bowl cereal...everything can suddenly feel so difficult. And then how good it is when the hard work of rehab starts paying off. And you can move around again, and feel like yourself.
And what Paul is asking us to do today, is to take this same care and awareness we have for our own bodies... and extend it to our communities.
So that when one of us is struggling...if we’ve lost our job, or lost a family member, or just aren’t feeling like ourselves...then all of us are affected.
And when one of us is rejoicing...when we celebrate a big birthday, or have a new grandchild, or start an exciting job...then all of us are rejoicing.
And maybe, just maybe...(and this isn’t Paul, but this is me now).If we can practice this awareness in our communities...then we will model a new way for our society to start thinking about itself.
And one thing I have learned about you already, Arlington Community Church, is that you find this idea of an interconnected creation as inspiring as I do.
I was struck by it the first time I sat down with Linda, Anita, and Ruth. And I heard about your Covenant for Life together. And then I met with the larger Search Committee, and we started to imagine how we might be in relationship... And we figured out the details of my Designated Term.
(And boy, we made sure that we were being thorough, didn’t we?)
And then, back at home, I read the words from the Covenant for Life Together: “We are called to be stewards of creation and to build a just society, based upon the inspiration of our faith.”
So if you vote to call me today...I am here as your Pastor, first, to get to know you all. I am here to listen. (And talk, for a little while, on Sundays!). I’m here to walk with you, through all the ups and downs of life.
And, as we get to know each other, I am also here to wonder with you. I am here to ask some questions -- and to push myself, and all of us, to try to answer them. What new seeds are ready to be planted at Arlington Community Church? Where is God eager to grow with us next? What practices might spring up, as we consider our call to be stewards and builders of a just society?
Because I think the apostle Paul is right.I think that church works, when we find a way to value the differences that exist among each other...When we start to draw energy from the different gifts that each of us can bring.
And when we use that energy, and don’t just keep it to ourselves, but use it to make our part of creation a better place.
--And sometimes, it may get a little messy, like the Little Farm at Tilden Park. There might be moments of frustration. There will certainly be moments of learning, for me.
But there will also be moments of wide-eyed wonder and laugh-out-loud grace.
And there will be plenty of chances to say, “Thank you, God.
I didn’t deserve to be put here, among these beautiful hills, right near this amazing body of water.
Among the creatures of Tilden Park, and the people of Kensington and Richmond and El Cerrito and Berkeley. Who are all part of the same world as me.
I didn’t deserve it. But now that I’m here, how can I reflect your love?”