Creation Sunday: Land
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
Then God said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And God said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to God, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” Then God said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.
The creation stories in Genesis reveal how the ancients thought about God, and us; that, based on human propensity to disregard boundaries; our tendencies and susceptibilities and compulsivities, and aggresivities and lacrymosities and irregularities and fallacies have landed us in a relationship with God that seems… for lack of another word that ends in ies… well… broken. The first humans, Adam, from the ground, and Eve, to breathe and give life, have been expelled from the place of perfect harmony after yielding to the temptation to take beyond their needs, and as a result remain out of balance with creation.
God’s presence and provision goes with them into exile, and though life will be more difficult, the couple also experiences the joys both of hard work and of building a family. Cain and Able are born, learn and grow and humans begin a new relationship with the land called agriculture. We also are introduced, through the lives of Cain and Able, to another other new concept called, competition, and also brand-new emotion… jealousy.
Cain tills the ground, Able tends sheep. Both bring an offering to God- Cain the fruit of the ground, and Able the first of his flock, and we can speculate the myriad of reasons why God regarded one and did not turn the other- that’s actually how the Hebrew reads- to Cain’s offering, God did not turn… and Cain’s face fell. And God says t Cain- why are you upset? When you do well, will your face be raised? But Cain can’t stand the thought of his brother receiving praise he has not earned, he can’t get past the thought that he has somehow lost this competition to his brother and perhaps lost favor in God’s eyes that in a jealous rage he kills his brother. As the old joke goes, Cain kills his brother because he was Able…
I know- a groaner- but it works past the pun- rivalry, whether between siblings, or coworkers, or corporations or political parties or races or nations- when someone gets something we didn’t, the green eyed monster rears its head we can quickly become Cain- and honestly, it doesn’t matter what “Able” does at that point- we want them out of the picture… ‘if only we could wipe them out- and all would be ours.’
So Cain kills his brother, because he was able- because of who he is and what he represents and the way his very existence casts a shadow over his own.
But when he does, a new character emerges in our story- the land. From the land, the news of human pain and strife and dis-ease cries out to God and makes known the strain of the of the human condition…
Our relationship with the land is that interconnected. When we are out of balance, when we have taken too much, when we succumb to greed and give in to the spirit of competition give power to the demon of jealousy, the land does not remain silent… the land feels it- she carries our life blood in her soil, and her wailing appeals for healing and restoration permeate the atmosphere as prayerful laments- as you heard John just sing, Paul writes to the church in Rome- “All creation groans together.” (Romans 12)
The sins of humankind- meaning, taking more than we need, not working in harmony with nature, extracting and damaging creation for personal gain- our sins- have caused land degradation- we’ve pillaged and eroded the soil- destroyed whole ecosystems and disrupted biodiverse communities that hold our very lives in their microbes and bacteria… (1) we’ve over farmed, mono cropped, clear-cutted, deforested, over-grazed, mined, quarried, dumped, built up, and blown up the very land we call home- we’ve lost our balance. And we’re killing Able- the part of us that brings our very best to God, in the process… Of course the land cries out! We all should be crying out!
We must relearn how to relate to the land; it is another piece of learning to live out our servant role in creation. We have the power within us through Christ to help bring creation back into balance. Just like the trees- the land is vulnerable to human action and greed, and responds accordingly; she is a complex and communicative system that is both fragile and diverse. Each component of the soil serves a purpose in the balance of nature. One of the main components, carbon is what gives healthy soil that rich, black color. But as we turn that soil over, it adds to global warming.
It’s interesting, we always think of global warming as being a recent development since the beginning of the industrial age. And that’s true- but only 25% of global warming has occurred since the1850’s. According to Kristen Ohlson, Author of a book on sustainable land practices and farming called, The Soil Will Save Us, 75% of global warming happened before that- as soon as humans began tilling the soil for agriculture and digging up and clear cutting the land.
She writes: “It’s tempting to think that the loss of soil carbon is a relatively modern curse… (but) As soon as humans segued from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural one, they began to alter the natural balance of carbon dioxide in the soil and the atmosphere.” Soil organisms and plants just can’t cope. “As greater volumes of soil are churned up and exposed to the air, the soil carbon–which may have been lying in place under the soil line for hundreds or thousands of years–meets oxygen, combines with it to form CO2, and departs for the upper atmosphere.”
Why do I tell you all this in the middle of a sermon? First, for awareness of the problem- soil restoration and health isn’t one of those ideas that we hear about on a regular basis- and actually, there are people actively working toward a better way and we need to know how to support them and even get involved ourselves as an act of stewardship.
More and more farmers are learning how to do it as the public demand for organics and sustainable produce grows. They are practicing no-till methods, diverse planting instead of monocropping, rotating grazing pastures for livestock, eliminating pesticides and artificial fertilizers, and planting fallow fields, and yes, it’s a huge learning curve, but praise God they are working toward healing the land, and us in the process.
And there are things we can both learn and do in order to help heal and restore the balance; Finding ways to heal our land begins in our own backyard- literally- planting where you can, composting where you can, supporting local sustainable farmers and national/global restorative farming movements- even something as simple as knowing where your food comes from and how it’s processed is so important. As a community of faith, taking steps to make sure that the products we use and dispose of, are sourced properly, reducing our trash, recycling and upcycling when we can…
And yes, I’m passionate about this- and I’ve taken steps myself to continue to learn as much as I can about how to live in balance with the land and implement small and large changes into my life. Not so I can be less “sinful” or that God will love me more… and that’s a point that needs clarifying. Yes, Cain messed up. Yes, Cain’s life was made more difficult by the choice he made to kill and not to celebrate Able- but do not think for one moment that God stopped loving him. Though Cain was sent to a different part of the earth, God’s protection went with him- God let Cain know that no harm would come to him- meaning, that though his life will be difficult, and he may suffer, his relationship with God would not- Cain’s relationship to God was as sure as the day he was born.
So no, not to be less sinful. I make changes so I can be more myself- more in my natural state- more of who God made me- I want to live into God’s plan for my life, and help other’s do the same and get back into balance in the process.
We might look at the state we’re in right now and think how far we are from where God asks us to be, and that there is no way back for us, no chance for us, no hope for us. But trust me- no- trust the word of the Creator and the Christ- you are loved with an everlasting and steadfast love- God will never leave you orphaned, God never leaves or forsakes, and God never ever gives up on you- never. And God gifts us a with a spirit within us to continually remind us of that- it’s in that spirit that we live and move and have our being, it is that spirit we look to the land and recognize the good gifts of God, it is that spirit we lean on- in both ourselves and one another when we doubt God’s love for us- and it is in that spirit that we step onto the sacred land we’ve been given and begin to heal.