This is the sermon the Rev. Canon Linda Taylor preached at the diocesan worship service on the First Creation Sunday, September 6, 2020.
The Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor
Creation Season 1: Forest Sunday
14 Pentecost – September 6, 2020
Genesis 2:4b-22; Psalm 139:13-16; Acts 17:22-28; Matthew 18:15-20
Welcome to the garden! You’ll hear all kinds of life around us including motorcycles and cars and even lawn blowers perhaps. We’re here in the garden because today and for the next three weeks, we’re going to be talking about how we’re called into communion—into community with all of creation. Today’s topic is the forest. We are surrounded by trees, beautiful trees, all kinds of trees. Trees are one of the biggest gifts of creation. They give us what we need for life. They give us oxygen. They give us food. They give us shelter. They give us stability and they touch our spirit with their beauty in a way that connects us over the ages of our lives.
Trees are magical. They take the air we breathe out and turn it into the oxygen that we need. They use photosynthesis, using that oxygen and that carbon dioxide and all the bits of them to make growth, to make green leaves.
Trees give us shelter. Particularly on these sunny days, they deflect the sun and can make the difference in our temperature in urban areas where concrete happens more often than greenery. They collect the carbon dioxide, they collect all of the other things, the sulfur dioxide, the nitrogen dioxide, they split those apart, they give us back the oxygen we need and they use the carbon to make everything else that’s needed. They give us food in season, like these gorgeous peaches we’ve been eating for the last month and a half. They give us shade to sit under to think about things that we need to think about. They give us medicines from their bark, like aspirin and quinine.
Their roots go down into the earth, preventing erosion and taking in the rain and giving it back to us through the groundwater supply that they recharge. They do all of these things. While they’re doing this, they teach us new ways to live in community because trees are in community with each other. All of their roots are connected. We don’t see what’s happening under our feet, but their roots are connecting the trees one to each other, and the fungus is down there among all of that, helping with the communication.
Trees do communicate with their roots. They have electrical impulses passing down those roots and out to their neighbors at the breathtaking speed of 1 inch every 2 seconds. They also communicate through odor. They send out messages to other trees, to warn them of predators, those little bugs that are nibbling at their leaves. They’re also pretty skilled at noticing and identifying what kind of predator it is that’s gobbling on them and then exuding through their leaves exactly what’s needed to deter those little nibblers and also sending out odors into the air that invite the perfect predator come and get those little critters. They support each other, including trees that have been damaged, and they share sugar with each other so that every tree has the same amount of resource to perform life-giving photosynthesis.
They’re doing all of this and they’re letting their neighbors know, “There’s a particular bug over here and it’s coming after you so you can get ready to have your anti-bug exudate on your leaves.” All of this is happening all around us, all the time. As I think of this, I think of my own pecan tree in my backyard, and in comparison with the pecan trees that are all through Forest Park. I think, “My tree must be lonely.” I began to think about talking to that tree a little bit more because I’m noticing that the bark is getting very deep which says it’s growing. Even at its age, it’s still growing, and it’s splitting all of its bark like we would split our skin.
All of this is happening all the time all around us with the same atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen that we use for life in ourselves. These trees—these pieces of creation that don’t move around very much—are very like us. We’re just put together in a little bit different way.
Community is what Jesus has been teaching us about in these last four or five weeks of the Gospel stories.
We listen to the lessons and we interpret them as we do and sometimes we use those lessons in a way that actually doesn’t build community. Today’s Gospel portion is one of those. The ways that this Gospel portion has been interpreted over the years—over the generations—has probably done more to bring exclusion in Christian communities than any other part of scripture.
When we disagree with people, we frequently experience that disagreement as a sin against us or against the church. Because we’re human, we do disagree. Because we have different experiences, we disagree with one another fairly often and we need to find a way to work through those disagreements. In this portion of the gospel, Jesus gives us a way to do that. He says, if someone sins against you, go to that person—not to everybody else—but go to the person who actually can do something about the problem. Talk with that person. If you can agree, healing can happen. If you talk with that person in private and you don’t find your way to agreement, then go and get someone else to come and help you with that disagreement. Perhaps with the aid of that third party—who’s not involved—perhaps you can find agreement. If that’s not effective, go to the whole church and say, “Help us. We need to heal this disagreement. We need to heal this rupture in our community.”
If that doesn’t work, Jesus says, treat the person as you would treat a tax collector or a Gentile. We know how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors. He invited himself into their homes. He brought them into his closest circle. He fed them at his table and he went to the cross for them. That’s how he treated the Gentiles and the tax collectors. He treated them with love, and that’s how we are called to treat one another even in the darkest disagreements we have. It’s not an easy thing to do. But the good news, my friends—as always—is that we don’t have to do it alone.
The other good news is that whether you have been in church every single Sunday of your life, or if this is the first time you’ve ever been part of a church service, you are welcome here. You are welcome here because the community of Christ is big enough for all of us. Whether we agree or disagree, there is room for all of us here. That’s the very good news.
Thanks be to God.