In March of 2016, our family stayed at the Good Shepard Agricultural Mission in Banbasa, India. It was perhaps the highlight of our big trip, and you can check my GSAM posts in the Contents to learn more.
While I have rejected most religion as superstition, their particular brand of Christianity was appealing, not too fundamentalist, very friendly, even fun. After a couple of Sunday services there, it occurred to be that the sermon was a literary form of importance. Preachin’ is a lot like teachin’. So I took a stab at the genre. (I mean, why not, my middle name sake, Frank Fagerburg, wrote more than a few!)
Even tho’ I was not invited to deliver it there and then, I thought I might deliver it here and now. I mean, it is Sunday. And it is my Dad’s birthday. So, in honor of him, my grandfather, GSAM, and mother nature herself, here goes…
Good morning and thank you! My family & I are so grateful to be here, our experience at the Mission has been more wonderful than we imagined. The love, kindness, and joie de vivre here at the farm is an inspiration. (joy of life)
Its the beginning, so let me start there, Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” And then in the next few verses come light and water and sky and vegetation, and God saw that it was good. And then came stars and living creatures and mankind, and God saw that they were good too.
Further on: Genesis 1:29-31 – “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life it – I give every green plant for food. And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…”
So, moving quite a bit forward in time, let me tell you a little about myself. I’ve been a teacher in various capacities since 1984, and even before that I realised there are many causes one can stand for: social justice, equal rights, fair treatment, healthy living, etc. But one, damage to our environment, global climate change, could make all the others irrelevant.
Thus, it seems to me – especially with the global population well over 7 billion – wise and gentle stewardship of nature is the key. So, for 12 of the 15 years I worked at North Hollywood High School my classroom was in the Agriculture Area where we had many organic gardens, vineyard, orchard, greenhouse, nursery, and various projects like aquaculture, vermiculture, and helping other schools start their own gardens.
During that time, I would take students on senior trips to Yosemite National Park, camping trips to the Channel Islands, and even an ecotour of Costa Rica. Then, almost 10 years ago, wanting to raise our children in the countryside, Mary Lynn & I moved to the little town of La Honda in northern California. We love the rolling hills, the redwood trees, the Pacific ocean, the Pescadero Marsh, and we go hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking whenever we can. And we are often inspired by the educational farm, Pie Ranch, that my sister Nancy and her husband Jered have created nearby along the California coast. (Come visit and check it out.)
Whether gardening, being out nature, or observing its beauty from afar, that interaction is always a blessing. Nature is the work and even the hand of God. Understand the mysteries of nature and you are looking into the mind of God. Wonder at the beauty of a tree, a sunset, the cardiovascular system, the way the water, wind, earth, and the life therein all work together, the stars in sky, the atoms in a grain of sand, and you are praying to the God who made it all.
Parenthetically, we have something in common – the US and India both had to win our independence from Great Britain. The US Declaration of Independence starts with a preamble that talks about the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. (quote?) But we used violence and you used non-violence, and that same wisdom can be applied to my message this morning, that stewardship of nature is not just being responsible citizens of the earth, it is honouring the God who made this wonderful creation, revelling in his manifestations of love, and preserving a world that allows us to share his grace for generations to come.
Consider… Job 12:7-9 – “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? Is not wisdom found among the aged?
Now consider the miracle of Photosynthesis. Beautiful plants use their chlorophyl to make our food from the light of the sun. Amazing no? And the molecules of Chlorophyl and Hemoglobin that have a similar structure differ by one atom. Chorophyl magnesium, Hemoglobin iron. That green chlorophyl and our red blood are in a symbiotic union, and strangely, direct opposites on the color wheel. Is that not intelligent design?
Consider Chaos Theory. OK, I’ve considered it and I still don’t understand it, but part of it has to do with the fact that nothing is perfect in nature, not perfectly flat, not perfectly round, not perfectly rhythmic, always a little off. But underneath that variability, hidden in the chaos, there is order. I could have googled more info, but check it out, it is fascinating, and how can that not be another of God’s miracles?
Consider the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle, the idea that we cannot know everything about the location of an electron moving around the nucleus of an atom. But miraculously, quantum physicists have found that an electron will appear wherever a scientist is looking for it. It seems to know we are watching. Does it knows because God knows?
I consider the words of my brother Ron, a medical doctor who now lives with his family in New Zealand. When he was in medical school learning anatomy and dissecting corpses, he would be amazed at how the body is put together, and he felt that it was the hand of God.
So, studying nature scientifically is good, but working with nature, like farming, is also like working with God. There are many Bible verses about farming. Here are just a few…
Genesis 2:15 – “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.”
Isaiah 28:24-29 – “Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed? Does he continually turn and harrow the ground? Does he not level its surface And sow dill and scatter cummin And plant wheat in rows, Barley in its place and rye within its area? For his God instructs and teaches him properly”
Proverbs 27:23-27 – “Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds; For riches are not forever, Nor does a crown endure to all generations. When the grass disappears, the new growth is seen, And the herbs of the mountains are gathered.
The lambs will be for your clothing, And the goats will bring the price of a field, And there will be goats’ milk enough for your food, For the food of your household, And sustenance for your servants.”
2 Corinthians 9:6-11 – “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…”
James 5:7 – “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the autumn and spring rains.”
…there are many more. But there are fewer about pollution as we know it today. When the Bible was written, pollution often referred to blood spilled, or to spiritual pollution. There were not substances or things that pollute the air, water, and land like there are today. Now we have chemicals, toxins, and products that do not break down or biodegrade. It’s a problem around the world.
Once upon a nearby time, chai, Indian tea, was served in earthenware cups. When a person finished their tea, they just threw it on the ground and it biodegraded, it went back to the clay it came from. And so it was with lots of items considered rubbish or garbage: bones, stones, shells, leftover food, things made of wood and paper and cloth. But now we have plastic, styrofoam, and other synthetics that do not decay or breakdown and they pollute the earth, the water, and even the air.
So another message this morning, in addition to appreciating nature, is to not litter, to pick up trash, and to “give a hoot – don’t pollute.” It is as blasphemy, a slight against God, a sin against nature. When we disrespect the earth, we disrespect God. I could evoke a verse from Revelations about the “destroyers of the earth being destroyed,” but the Earth is not yet destroyed. It can be cleansed, swept up, tidied up, and brought back to a more natural, a more God-like state.
Here at the Mission you have a wonderful opportunity to be an example of righteousness – you already are: your dairy, your crops, your methane production, your school, your neighborliness, your sustainability, your caring, and your wonderful kids. In many things, including this kind of respect for nature, you can be an example for your community, your state, your country, and the world. You can show others how to live, how to enjoy the beauty and abundance of nature, and to respect God’s creation. Kindly – do not litter. Stash your trash. Pick it up. Set that example.
As I’m sure you know, Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Be that change, even in small ways, it’s easy. And Martin Luther King said something like, “we can all be great because we can all serve.” And sometimes that service is looking out for the negligence of others and picking up their trash.
So, consider Proverbs 6:6 – “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet is stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?”
Hopefully I haven’t put you to sleep. Thank you again for this opportunity, and for already being a change in the world, for already serving, for already showing us so much love. It has been an honour to be here and to get to know you. I’ll close with a few verse from Psalms about nature, agriculture, and the environment. Consider…
Psalm 104:10-14 – “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air next by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bring forth food from the earth.”
Now here’s a little prayer I wrote when I was a small boy: “Dear God, Thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the songs we sing, thank you God for everything.”