Loving Our Wild Neighbors
“Loving Our Wild Neighbors” - Rev. Corey Turnpenny
Sunday May 7th, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church
Would you please pray for me as I pray for you… Loving God, make your Truth known to us this day and forever, for you are our Rock and our Redeemer. AMEN
So excited to be here and bring thanks beyond words from our little wild community
for supporting us as missionaries to the Earth. Clearly you all are committed to Creation care and I can’t wait to brag about all the incredible work you’re doing here in your corner of the world.
I begin every worship at CitW saying, “Welcome beloved creature to this sacred place” and that seems particularly appropriate for this Sunday! I also need to share that we’re currently reading a book together called The Eight Master Lessons of Nature by Gary Ferguson. I’m preaching on a chapter each week and this week’s chapter is titled “Our animal cousins make us happier and smarter.” !!
I know you’ve been looking at how we connect with God thru Creation. Throughout the Bible we find descriptions of how we can know God through Creation. As we heard from Paul in Romans 1:20, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—
have been clearly seen, b/c they are understood through the things God has made.” I’ve come to understand Nature as God’s first testament. We can know and feel God’s nature in God’s nature, by that I mean we can understand who God is by looking at what God made. Just as you can see a parent’s features in a child, or you can see the similarities or a signature style in the works of a particular artist, we can see God’s signature mark throughout creation.
The peaceful, beauty of a landscape, the slow and steady breath of the ocean waves, the interconnectedness of all life, the impeccable balance every organism brings to an ecosystem, the constant cycle of life and death and decay which provides again for new life, all of this speaks to the Truth of God just as Jesus said he came to testify to the Truth
But probably our favorite verse and one we list on our website is the one from Job
“Ask the animals what they think—let them teach you;
let the birds tell you what’s going on.
Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics.
Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories.
Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree
that God is sovereign and holds all things.”
How cool is it that that’s in the bible? Clear instructions to sit outside and listen to the birds sing.
In the 8 Master Lessons of Nature book, naturalist & nature writer Gary Ferguson said “I once asked a Northern Cheyenne elder what he thought of anthropomorphism.He said, ‘To us anthropomorphism makes no sense. Can’t you see? We’re the ones who took our qualities from the animals. It’s never been the other way around.” “Undoubtedly wolves, and many other animals, were our ancestors’ teachers. Clever as we may be, we simply haven’t outgrown them as a source of wisdom, nor will we ever.”
Think about what lessons you’ve learned from an animal lately? In another Spirit gift I received for this topic this week was a friend & colleague Carrie Bland posted on fb: “What life lessons have you learned from your pets? I’ll go first… My dogs have taught me: Take time to stop & smell the air. Play as hard as you can. Take a nap every day & snuggle with someone you love. No matter what you’re doing, keep an eye on your loved ones. When you have big feelings it’s okay to use a security blanket or toy. Make friends everywhere you go, you’ll have more fun. Be ready to go for a ride at any moment. Simple things in life can bring great joy. Get out & run or stretch your legs at least once a day. Greet everyone like you haven't seen them in 5 years even if it’s only been 30 sec.”
We do learn so much from our animals and there’s more wisdom to be gained from creatures in the wild, our fellow earthlings. Just the fact that we’re so drawn to animals and want to connect with them should tip us off to the wisdom they possess that we need.
“Acknowledging our relations with animals can help create in us the peace and sense of belonging we long for.”If we can see how God speaks to us through Creation and shares Wisdom with us through the lives of animals, then the same can go the other way, right? We can speak to God when we speak to our animals. I’m reminded of the old tradition I learned of a few years ago, the custom of “telling the bees”.
Bees have long held a special place in our lives . In 1800’s rural Europe and the United States whenever there was a death in the family, someone had to go out to the beehives and tell the bees of loss. Failing to do so often resulted in further calamity such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey, or even dying. Traditionally, the bees were kept informed of not only deaths, but of all important family matters including births, marriages, and long absence due to journeys. If the bees were not told, all sorts of tragedies were thought to transpire.
The fact is: bees help humans survive. Our survival is dependent on theirs. 70 of the top 100 crop species that feed 90% of the human population rely on bees for pollination. Without them, these plants would cease to exist, and all the animals that eat those plants, causing a cascading effect
that would ripple catastrophically up the food chain. The act of telling the bees emphasizes this deep connection humans share with them and all of nature.
Perhaps the most important Wisdom I’ve gained from our animal cousins is the need to think collectively, systematically, never forgetting for a moment how connected all life on this planet is to others. Humans have a tendency to lean heavily on individualistic thinking. Separating individuals or groups, only considering one piece of the web at a time. Our fate is intertwined with the fate of the polar bears, and the bees, and cows. And how we live in shared communion with other creatures is wrapped up in the health and healing of our souls.
Once again want to share some of Gary Ferguson’s wise words, “We have before us a golden opportunity, and at the same time a golden obligation, to heal those places where respect for other creatures has yet to be recovered.” “Recommitting ourselves to a greater respect & compassion for farm animals allows a healing of the age-old division between us & the rest of creation that caused us to turn a blind eye to suffering of all kinds. Being good to any creature, at any time, will help us find our hearts again.”
Jesus taught to love our neighbors as ourselves and we’ll inherit eternal life. The legal expert asked, who is my neighbor? We ask this often with only humans in mind. What if we opened it up to all the living things in our neighborhoods? Who are our wild neighbors? And how can we treat them in a neighborly way?
Gary Ferguson ends his chapter on animals by saying, “Weaving the dignity of animals into how we act in the world means expanding our own devotions beyond family & friends, beyond neighborhood & country, beyond humans even, to create a new kind of loyalty to all living things. A loyalty that, in true honoring of our interdependence, is less about saving any one species than it is about saving us all.”
I don’t think it’s morally wrong to eat animal meat, but I do think every animal deserves to live a decent life and die a painless death. And I know I have some work to do in my own life to ensure the food I consume is produced in a way that respects the animal who gave their life for my survival.
And while I’m working to heal my relationship with my fellow creatures in this way I know our entire food system needs a mandated ethic of respect for the millions of animal lives in its care.
My hope and prayer is that as more of us intentionally connect with Creation and are moved to rejoin the web of life as a sacred partner rather than just a consumer that our faith which teaches us to love our neighbors will help bring out God’s way, God’s kingdom in our midst so that all our neighbors, human and more than human might know freedom, peace, and fullness of life. May we help to make it so. AMEN