Preached April 24, 2016
Scripture: Psalm 104: 16-18, 24 (ESV)
The title of today’s sermon is “Rock Badger Don’t Care: An Earth Day Sermon.” And not just because it gave me an excuse to watch videos of honey badgers when I was supposed to be preparing to preach this week. Though that was a consideration.
And I will offer this sidebar that if you google the phrase, “Honey Badger Don’t Care” and you watch the video associated with the phrase – I cannot under any circumstances be held responsible for all the profanity you will hear. Though there is a good PBS show about honey badgers that is family friendly. So just watch that one instead. So to review…PBS show. YES. Random YouTube video. NO.
So now that we have that cleared up…I will tell you that a rock badger and a honey badger are not the same thing. Though I did find out that they both live in the Middle East in the same area in which our psalmist would have been writing. But the rock badger is the one that shows up in this psalm and in a handful of other places in the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus for example will tell you not to eat the rock badger (because they are so cute!).
And as their name, and this psalm implies, they like to hang out on rocks. In fact, the psalmist writes that the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers. And in this litany in Psalm 104, the psalmist lists how God cares for a number of God’s creatures. One commentator frames what is happening in these verses in a way that really struck me, and I want to share it with you in spite of its sexist language. (It was written in 1975, so take the exclusively male pronouns with a grain of salt). Professor Walter Harrelson writes:
“God made fir trees for the storks to nest in, and he made storks to nest in the fir trees. He made high, inaccessible mountains for the wild goats to run and jump upon, and he made wild goats to do the jumping and cavorting. He created the vast expanse of rock-covered earth in eastern Jordan for rock badgers to live and play in, and he created rock badgers for the rocks.”
… and then he writes:
“Storks and goats and badgers do not serve mankind. They do what is appropriate to them.”
In other words, rock badgers don’t care. They don’t care about humans. And in fact, God did not make rock badgers, or any animals described here, to serve humans.
Now to be clear, this is not to deny evolution. We can notice that God’s creation is ever-changing. In my reading about rock badgers, or coneys, or rock hyrax, whatever name you would like to use, I learned that they are sort of slow to evolve. The reason they are laying around on the rocks or even in little piles of rock badgers is that they have a poorly developed thermoregulation system. In other words, they can’t regulate their own body temperature very well. So they need other rock badgers and warm rocks to help them do the job.
So even if we can acknowledge evolution, we can still step back like our ancient psalmist and observe that rock badgers are able to live and thrive and are cared for by participating in a delicate and interconnected system that has nothing to do with us humans. Rock badgers don't care about humans, and their sacred place in creation ain't got nothin' to do with us.
To go further, we can look at all of nature and notice that God is continuously creating and sustaining the earth and everything in it for its own sake. And so we are called to honor the sacred in all of creation, not because of what it does for us. We are called to honor all of creation because as God's creation, it is valuable in its own right.
And now we get to the flunking part of our flunking sainthood series. We as a human species typically flunk at caring for creation beyond what it can do for us. The end of Psalm 104 draws this to our attention saying, “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!” In the context of this psalm, the sinner is not someone who breaks one of a litany of rules and regulations: the sinner is someone who fails to honor God’s sacred creation.
And we flunk at this. To start with, we humans can't even seem to value other humans as sacred beyond what they can do for us. As I chose the song we will hear during the offering, a song that employs ideas from the Lakota (Native American) tradition, I did so with a bit of hesitation. I wanted to share and honor the beauty and wisdom of the song, which calls us to this standard of mitakuye oyasin, an acknowledgement that all creatures are our relations, that all of the earth is our family.
But in good conscience, I couldn’t use this song without mentioning the way that Christian ideology fueled manifest destiny: this idea that God was calling white Christian Europeans to colonize North America even if it meant killing and displacing millions of Native Americans who already lived here. In 2012, our denomination, The United Methodist Church, participated in a formal Act of Repentance to acknowledge atrocities that were committed by Christians against indigenous people around the world. But this act was just the beginning of a remembering that needs to happen at every opportunity.
And Native Americans are not the only people we have difficulty valuing in their own right. The way we politically talk about issues shows that we can get behind taking care of each other – as long as it benefits us. We hear politicians argue for changes in immigration law – not because immigrants are of equal sacred worth to citizens – but because immigrants can contribute to our economy, and that’s good for us. We hear arguments about providing preventive health care to all people because it will make the health care system more economically efficient, and that’s good for us. We rarely simply say every person is sacred and deserves health care!
And we also flunk at valuing the non-human creatures of the earth. We argue for creation care as a means to an end. We talk about saving the earth "for our children." We lament the extinction of species due to climate change and deforestation because the lost animal or plant life might contain some cure to a human disease. We create national forests, so humans can enjoy them.
It is so hard to value creation beyond what it can do for us. It is so hard to see animals and plants and ecosystems as truly sacred, to see them as created by and sustained by the same God who sustains us. I confess this is hard for me personally. Sometimes at my very progressive seminary, I would almost roll my eyes and be all like, “enough with the ecotheology” because I too find it easier to care about people, particularly people I know. It is hard for me as well – to value creation beyond how it sustains human life.
And that is why I am thankful that our Christian and Methodist tradition, while not perfect, offers us a theology of redemption: this idea that we can and should recognize when we are not living in a way that honors God and loves neighbor. And it also offers us a theology of sanctification, that when we recognize our failings, we can do better. And that God can transform us to live differently so that we can transform the way we encounter world.
But how to begin this transformation? Well, we have started here, meditating on Psalm 104, this new way of looking at creation that invites us not only to see the sacred worth of all people, but invites us to see all creation (the rock badgers, the storks, the cedar trees) as sacred and holy in its own right.
And perhaps we can continue. Perhaps we can be formed to encounter creation as God encounters it during our prayer after communion. If you’ve been here before, you know the words it includes: “it is enough that you see me for myself, that I see you for yourself. That we bless what we see and do not borrow, do not use one another.” Perhaps as we pray that prayer this week and beyond, we can expand our notion of who is part of that prayer. Who do we mean when we say "one another”?
Maybe we can be invited into the spirit of mitakuye oyasin, an understanding of all of creation as all our relations. And perhaps the “other” that we bless and do not use can extend beyond this community, beyond neighborhood, beyond country, and beyond even just humanity.
And maybe, just maybe, by praying in this expansive way week by week, we might catch a glimpse of all of creation, even just for a moment, from God's perspective.
May it be so.