Year C, Rogation May 1, 2016 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was Ezekiel 34:25-31; Ps. 67; James 4:7-11; Matthew 6:25-34 “Notice how the lilies of the field grow.” Is that an order? “Look at the birds in the sky.”
What if that is not just a rhetorical statement? What if Jesus is really telling us to do that, to look, to notice, to really see the world around us? Because maybe, in really seeing, noticing, looking at the world around us we might learn more about what God intends for us to know about the world, about ourselves, and maybe most importantly, about God in God’s self.
Today is our observance of Rogation Sunday. This is a time for us to reflect on the world around us, the created world, and the ways that we as creatures live and thrive in relation to that world because we are part of the world. It is moment to look at our culture and agriculture, to give thanks and ask for mercy in a very uncertain world. This observance has happened in Christian churches for over 1500 years. Rogation is associated with the Feast of the Ascension which we celebrate on Thursday, but it has even deeper roots in a Roman agricultural holiday called Robigalia. This was a holiday celebrated to appease Robigus, the god of agricultural disease. A sacrifice was made and the Romans asked Robigus to spare their crops particularly from wheat rust, a devastating fungal blight.
This tradition of asking for protection for farms and crops continued, and the word Rogation comes from the Latin verb rogare, to ask. This tradition made it to England in the 7th century, and developed into a practice of prayers and processions, where the members of a parish would walk the boundaries of the parish, remember a parish is a place, not a church or group of people, and they would “beat the bounds,” really marking all the important spots along the walk, stopping to ask God to bless us with the fruits of the earth and ask for protection from evil spirits, natural calamities and crop failures.
That sounds a little remote, a little removed from most of our daily experience, right? Here at Resurrection we have about 250 members, and of that, as far as I know, we have 8 people in three families that are involved in agriculture professionally. One family grows grapes for wine production out in the Crow Valley. Another family has a small goat dairy and sells some eggs. Another person just started working on a biodynamic farm. Two other folks used to farm, one raised beef cattle and the other dairy goats in the Coast Range. Is there anyone else? That’s about 3% a pretty close reflection of the national figure that about 2% of our population produces all of our food. ALL of it. Just 80 years ago more than 20% of our population was engaged in agriculture. That is a huge change. And not long before that, before industrialization, 80% of people farmed. (Who here is under 60? Of you, who grew up on a farm? Who here is over 60? Of you, who grew up on a farm?)
Jesus did not grow up on a farm. He, like his earthly father Joseph, was a carpenter of sorts. But in that time, particularly out in the sticks of Galilee, everyone, whether your family farmed or not, everyone knew a lot about farming, a lot about the systems of how life really works because it was just everywhere and everyone took part in it sometimes. Be it the barley harvest, or the pressing of grapes or olives, or lambing or shearing time, the whole community would be involved. No one was very far removed from the things that kept them alive.
Is that how it is now? Only 3% of us here in this room work on a farm. Do we know how things work? Who here has eaten an egg? Who here has watched a chicken lay an egg? Who here has eaten bread? Who here has ever harvested wheat? Seen it threshed? Tasted a fresh wheatberry? Who here has eaten chicken? Who here has seen a chicken turn into chicken? Do you think it matters if we know anything about how the food we eat gets from out there to in here? Do you think it matters if we know much about how the world works, about plants and animals and how they live and become our food? Does it matter if we know what the lilies of the fields are up to, or the birds in the sky?
I think it does matter. It does matter that we know how the world works around us. Right now, very few of us know how to take care of ourselves if economies or climates get wonky faster than expected. We are, most of us, at the mercy of Market of Choice, or Albertsons or on a grander scale, Monsanto or Con-Agra when it comes to eating. I think it matters that we know a bit about how a seed goes into the ground and turns into food and life.
But more pressingly, right now, it is important to know about how the world works, how nature works, because it is one of the primary sources we have to learn about God. The Bible is our first go to place. The stories and vocabulary, the words of God are found there. And within those words, the Word, Jesus Christ is revealed to us in a very special way. The stories Jesus tells us, the words He uses, the things He teaches, the bible is our first school.
The testament of nature is another important way that we can know about God. Think about staring up at the stars at night. How vast it is! How tiny we are! How amazing that something so tiny can be part of something so big. Kind of like looking out over the ocean, or out over a mountain range when you are right there in the midst of it, high on some peak. Or watch a teeny-tiny ant struggling to carry a piece of potato ship off the picnic blanket (a locally made organic potato chip of course). That will to live! What effort, what an indominable spirit in such a speck of life. Or right now we have a buck out at the farm: it is breeding time for Windy’s goats. I’m not sure exactly what lessons we are to learn from all of that but it is quite a sight to see, all of Dash the Buck’s shenanigans.
Or consider the lilies of the fields, or the birds of the air. Here is Jesus not even making up a story, a parable, He is just reading from the Book of Nature. He tells us not to worry, not to sweat the small stuff. The birds, do they worry? Do they worry about what they are going to eat? What they are going to wear? Whether their sister took their favorite hair clip? Or their brother took the best pair of socks? No, the birds don’t worry about that because God loves them and takes care of them so they don’t worry about it. Neither should we. (Chickens do fight over worms, sometimes, but that is another sermon).
Or the lilies. They don’t wear themselves out with work and worry, trying to be the prettiest, handsomest, best dressed one at school. No. God takes care of them and even the fanciest king who ever lived was never better dressed than those simple flowers, because God made them that way, and when God makes something, it is always beautiful, there is always beauty in there even if it is sometimes hard for people to see.
This little passage of scripture is so incredibly clear. It tells us to look at the world around us because there are great teachers there. Teachers who teach us through simply who and what they are, what God made them to be, and not because they know a lot or can speak or write clearly. Pay attention to the world around you. Go to the farmer’s market, or join a CSA and go to a farm, meet some chickens while you buy some chicken, and listen. Listen very closely to what the world is telling you. God’s voice is in there. Consider the lilies. Look at the birds in the sky. Jesus told us to. AMEN