This commentary was based on an earlier version of the readings for the Season of Creation, which was updated on Thursday September 14th. The update came in after much of this had been composed. Rather than try to draft a new commentary, I offer this one. I hope you find some merit in it.
The updated readings for Sunday at St. Aidan’s are: Ezekiel 17: 1-10, 22-24, Psalm 29: 1-11, Romans 14: 1-12 and Matthew 13: 31-35. My apologies for the change.
In this first Sunday of the Season of Creation Cares at St. Aidan’s we focus on forests and the first reading for this comes from Genesis 2:4-22 reflects this attention.
…the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Forests represent a dimension of God’s genius. Trees use the sun’s light to power the absorption of carbon dioxide, strip out the carbon to grow its own cells, and incidentally, produce oxygen for humanity to breathe. We call it photosynthesis.
As this passage from Genesis notes, the forests also produce different fruits and berries. Forests in Africa, Asia, Amazon, the Americas and Europe host animals, birds, insects that feed humanity.
Forests provide medicines such as novocaine, cortisone, curare, quinine, to name a few….
Humankind used the wood for shelter, for boats and paper… and the cross.
Eventually, we came to see forests as a “long-cycle crop” that could be cultivated and grown for simplicity of harvesting for timber: long-fibre black spruce for newsprint, cedar, teak, mahogany for boats and furniture. In the language of R&D, humanity acted to “understand, predict and control” the forests.
And yet, in humanity’s vanity, we came to think that control was the ultimate goal. We left out wonder and gratitude to God. And we forgot the injunction to ‘fear the Lord’ in the face of his great works. (Exodus 14:13)
We failed to understand the complex relationships between our use of fossil fuels and industrial production of beef and their impact on climate change. We cut down forests to make room for cattle grazing. Rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns transformed cool, shady forests into dry fuel sources for fire from lightning or human activity.
In 2016 fire caused more than $9.9B in damages to Fort McMurray. In 2021 a wildfire destroyed the town of Lytton BC and the neighbouring Lytton First Nations community. This past summer the dry forests near Kelowna, Yellowknife and Hay River burst into flame, fanned by arid winds. Beyond the financial and social damages, the fires added vast amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and eliminated the oxygen generating capacity of millions of trees.
Which brings us to the gospel for this day (John 3:1-16) which addresses the need to be ‘born again’, but raises the question of what it means in the context of forests. First, here is a paraphrase of the first part of the gospel.
a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.. came to Jesus by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; … Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit…The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it Is with everyone who Is born of the Spirit.’…
In the context of the Season of Creation, being born from above means several things. First, it means recognizing, in the words of this morning’s psalm 139, that God made us and we are ever present to him.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
God breathed each person’s life uniquely into carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. These six elements make up approximately 99% of our bodies. Even without knowing the periodic table, the psalmist understood this and saw that God had made each person a distinct being and transformed the elements of the earth into a single person.
Second, it is an invitation to reconsider the harmonious relationship Genesis articulated:
the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil*.
This ancient text reminds us of a simpler relationship that humanity had with creation and it bids us to look at our lives and consider:
Being born anew reminds us of our baptism and our vow, as part of that ‘renewed birth’, to “respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth.” It is our Christian commitment.
*There are many different and profound Jewish and Christian interpretations of the meaning of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For reasons of time and space we will not discuss them here.