July 21, 2019

“In God’s Hand is the Life of Every Creature”

Psalm 36:5-9 and Job 12:7-10

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

July 21, 2019 (Pentecost +6)


I am not an animal person.  My family didn’t have many pets when I was growing up—a few small turtles, a bird (I’m not sure what kind it was), and for a few months we raised six chicks.  I don’t think the chicks qualified as pets because after they got big enough, we took them to my Obaachan’s house and she made fried chicken for a family party. My sister, brother and I ate hamburgers for dinner that night.


I prefer to look at animals in zoos and pictures rather than live with them.  I appreciate most animals from a distance.  The ones that try to live with me uninvited are usually squished with a slipper and swept up into the trash.  A lot of them try hard to come and live with us.


Given my lack of appreciation for animals, you can imagine that today’s focus on animals as part of God’s creation has been a challenge for me this week.  But as I reflected on our Scripture readings and other passages that mention animals, I began to appreciate them as an essential part of God’s creation.  God has not only made unique animals and plants, but set all life into a magnificent ecosystem in which all exist together in amazing balance.


The Appreciative Inquiry Team once did an appreciation exercise, and tried to find something about flies to thank God for. Have you ever tried to appreciate flies? At camp, or when we have food here we’re always bemoaning their presence, right?  We’re always shooing them away, wishing they didn’t come around to land on our food.  We struggled with this exercise for a long time, trying to be thankful to God for flies. 


Flies actually have an important role to play in our ecosystem.  They eat decaying organic matter, essentially recycling nutrients for plants to absorb so they can grow.  And then plants convert carbon dioxide into air, which we need to breathe to live. Flies are also pollinators, which enable the development of fruit, which provides seeds for plant propagation and food for many other animals.  Once we could name something good about flies, the AI team was actually able to say, “Thank God for flies.”  While flies carry disease, God did make flies with a positive purpose in the ecosystem.


Animals, even flies, are as much loved by God and part of God’s creation as humans and plants, minerals and water.  Our reading from Psalm 36 opens with a declaration of the vastness of God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice:

Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep.

(Psalm 36:5-6a)


This love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice are directed at both humans and animals.  The psalmist declares, “You, LORD, preserve both people and animals”(v. 6b).  God loves all creatures and sustains both people and animals with God’s faithfulness.


So today’s lesson is that God’s love is for ALL of creation.  God loves and sustains all of creation, not just humans, but all animals, plants, the oceans, mountains, the sky.  God’s immense love is for all of creation.  Even though the creation story describes humans as having been made in the image of God and having responsibility to care for creation, we’re still creatures who have been made by God.  We cannot live as though God is only concerned for the thriving of human life. God’s love and care for creation is for all its parts—the earth, sky, sea, land animals and creatures in the sea. And because God loves all of creation, we too need to love all of creation.  And we need to care for creation, and not only because of its service to us.


There are many animals that people struggle to appreciate.  Often these animals are considered pests because they eat our crops, destroy our gardens or bring disease.  But if you think about how these animals are part of the larger ecosystem that God created, you can be thankful for them.


Earlier this year, a film called “The Biggest Little Farm” was released.  I haven’t seen this film, but read several reviews.  It is the story of John and Molly Chester, who bought a farm and moved because their dog’s barking had gotten them evicted from their apartment in Los Angeles.  John was a film maker and Molly was a private chef.  Over the six years or so that the film covers, the Chesters took a farm that had essentially one crop, lemons, and turned it into an organic, biodynamic farm that grows 75 varieties of fruits and 100 types of vegetables.  They also raise livestock—pigs, cows, sheep and chickens.


One of the stories told in the film is how they faced the challenge of coyotes coming to eat their chickens.  John shot one of the coyotes, but then realized that he would need to eradicate all of the coyotes that came onto their farm.  As he thought about the coyotes, he realized they were actually helping to keep other pests on the farm in check.  They ate gophers, which were digging around and eating the roots of their trees, and hunted rabbits that ate other crops.  If he killed all the coyotes, their gopher and rabbit problem would increase.  So they found a different solution to their coyote problem by having a guard dog protect their chickens.  While they still lose some of their crops and animals, the “pests” actually keep each other in check.  It seems that the Chesters were constantly learning how one part of their farm impacted other parts, both for good and bad.  In finding these connections, they learned how to work with the ecosystem rather than against it.


If we, like the Chesters, can learn to appreciate the ecosystem that God created, then our view and perspective on the care and stewardship of God’s creation should include all animals, including flies and coyotes. We don’t farm, but God may be calling us to pay attention to animals in the wild, especially those whose habitats are threatened.  How are our lives intertwined with the animals in our backyards, in the marina, in Maunalua Bay, in the undeveloped parts of our community?  

A few weeks ago I noticed some blue tape on trees in town. On the tape was a notice for those trimming the trees that there were bird nests present, and it was nesting season. Whoever put the tape around the trees wanted to make sure those nests were left undisturbed.  Who knows how not allowing those birds to nest will impact our environment?


There are many different ways to express care for animals.  I think what God may be saying to us is that we need to expand our thinking about creation and our place in it.  Creation was not meant to serve humanity only.  God’s loving kindness and steadfast love encompasses all of creation—it reaches to the heavens and runs in the deepest depths of the ocean.  


Yesterday at camp JoAnn had us take just ten minutes to look around at the environment.  We rarely, if ever, stop to look at the world around us.  We saw a lot of things because we took the time to look at the trees, the grass, the animals.  


Today’s reading from the book of Job invites us to stop and pay attention to animals and the lessons they can teach us about God: 

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,

or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;

or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,

or let the fish in the sea inform you.

Which of these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?

In [God’s] hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10).


The animals know.  When we turn our attention to the animals, when we observe how they live—what they eat, where they sleep, how they raise their young—we can see how amazing God is, and how God does indeed hold the life of every creature in God’s hand. We see how we are connected to nature, how we are interdependent, and how it is all part of God’s design for life on earth.  We can only stand back in awe and appreciation for the work of God.  Our proper response is praise and worship, worship that includes caring for creation.


It is evident that all is not well in God’s creation. Sin has brought our separation from God and our separation from each other and our separation from the rest of creation.  The ruin of our environment is the consequence of our sin.  But God’s promised redemption encompasses both the human and non-human creation.  When we seek to protect and care for the creatures God has made, we show that God loves not only humanity, but all of God’s creation.  The new creation that we are eagerly awaiting is not only for people, but for all the animals and plants and mountains and oceans and sky.  All creation is waiting for redemption.  All creation will be redeemed.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth when Jesus returns.


In the meantime, as we appreciate God’s amazing design for our ecosystem, as we see God’s hand sustaining all of life, we can respond in worship by being responsible stewards of animals, and of nature. Thanks be to God for this amazing interconnected, interdependent world that God has made.  Thanks be to God for the ways God nurtures and sustains life. Thanks be to God that in God’s hand is the life of every creature.