Recognize (and Protect) Everyday Miracles

Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

How about giving up discontent for Lent?

There’s a complaint heard sometimes in our household: “If I didn’t do this, it wouldn’t get done.” Sometimes it’s a reproach. But there are certain things we know only one person has the talent or patience for. One of us operates the glue gun. Another plans a budget or a family vacation. One refurbishes the grill, another bakes the bread. Some of these things might get done otherwise, but not as skillfully.

I was in the garden last summer picking strawberries for breakfast, and I found myself thinking in a different way about this claim, “If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.” I planted and weeded the strawberries. But if these little plants didn’t concern themselves with the job of making berries, it wouldn’t get done. We couldn’t make it happen.

No human has talent like that, no matter how smart we think we are. Without berry-making know-how far beyond what any human knows, without that genetic wisdom, without all that mysterious work in leaves and stems and roots, that work so subtle it looks to us like nothing’s going on, without all that, strawberries wouldn’t get done.

From where we stand, it’s pure miracle. And the tiny tomato seedlings that will soon start growing in miniature pots that will soon be giants of production, and the corn kernels doing nothing now that will soon grow taller than people: If these plants didn’t do the mysterious, subtle, powerful things they do, food wouldn’t happen at all.

When we examine all the activities we think are our own—the hard work earning money to buy a little plot of land, the digging, the sowing, planting, cultivating, watering, thinning, and controlling pests—or if we don’t garden, the labor of earning money for groceries, and then driving, choosing, buying, and transporting home, cooking, table setting—when we examine these activities, we can fantasize that food is entirely our doing.

But when we watch how things really work, we see that humans may help, but we are not the ones who turn seeds into food. Every time we eat is a miracle. It’s a moment to give thanks for what we couldn’t live without and could never do ourselves.

What is true of our food is also true of our spirits. Every bit of nurture, every moment of insight, growth, and joy, comes not from ourselves but ultimately from the God who made us capable of growth. Our entire story, from the deep past, would never have happened if God hadn’t brought it about in ways far beyond human knowing.

When we thank God for this world, our home, and all its creatures, we let go of our self-preoccupation and discontent; we set aside greed; we focus less on what we want and more on all that freely comes to us every day. We tell our own story in a different way. And the things we become consciously grateful for, we cherish more dearly, we value more conscientiously, and we protect more fiercely.

The Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson calls it biophilia, love for nature, “the innate tendency to affiliate with life and lifelike processes.” Human nature, Wilson says, was genetically encoded during the long prehistoric millennia that humans lived close to the rest of the living world. It’s in our genes to find nature soothing. No wonder ancient writers described the Garden of Eden as filled with fruit trees, flowing rivers, and wild animals.

Churches where members practice gratitude for creation are retrieving things we lost along the way. We’re learning our place in the natural world. There isn’t another world like this within reach of human travel. The moon, Mars, everywhere else we could possibly escape to, wouldn’t measure up. We can’t use up the earth and discard it.

Instead, we must learn to live within its limits, not carelessly but carefully, not greedily but gratefully. This home of ours is not indestructible, but under favorable conditions it is resilient. In the daily actions that gratitude inspires we find our resilience as well.

March 1, 2020 (First Sunday in Lent)

  • Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 describes God’s forming of the human (adam) from the ground (adamah)—a thematic word repeated 14 times in Genesis 2-4. According to the Eden story, everything vital comes from the ground, which the humans were instructed to serve and preserve. See more here.
  • Psalm 32 and Matthew 4:1-11 relate wilderness experiences of sin and temptation.

March 8, 2020 (Second Sunday in Lent)

  • Genesis 12:1-4a conveys God’s speech to Abraham about the land where God would bless his family.
  • Psalm 121 describes the maker of heaven and earth as our protector.
  • John 3:1-17 characterizes the God as not condemning but saving the world.

March 15, 2020 (Third Sunday in Lent)

  • Exodus 17:1-7 narrates God’s producing water in the desert for thirsty Israelites.
  • Psalm 95 proclaims, “In God’s hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are Gods also” and calls humans “the people of God’s pasture.”
  • Romans 5:1-11 encourages persistence, which produces character and hope.
  • John 4:5-42 reflects on well water, nourishment, and ripening fields.

March 22, 2020 (Fourth Sunday in Lent)

  • Psalm 23, in vivid imagery of pastures and streams, points out the parallels between humans tended by God and sheep tended by their shepherds.
  • John 9:1-41 narrates the miracle of sight given through the humble medium of mud.

March 29, 2020 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

  • Ezekiel 37:1-14 offers hope of resurrection for a dying community through one who prophesies new life.
  • Psalm 130 presents a long view of the future and forgiveness for past mistakes.
  • Romans 8:6-11 can easily be misunderstood as discounting earthly life. But the chapter goes on to say that creation itself awaits redemption.
  • John 11:1-45 describes Jesus as a savior who brings new life.

April 5, 2020 (Palm Sunday)

  • Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (Liturgy of the Palms) uses elements of the natural world—stones and tree branches—to describe rejoicing.
  • Philippians 2:5-11 (Liturgy of the Passion) describes the humility and self-emptying work of Christ.
  • Matthew 26:14-27:66 (Liturgy of the Passion) brings a common meal, common foods of wine and bread, a garden, and a farmyard rooster into the story of Jesus’ passion.
  • Matthew 27:11-54 (Liturgy of the Passion alternate) binds human sin to responses in the natural world by describing an earthquake occurring as Jesus wrongfully died.

April 12, 2020 (Easter Sunday)

  • Acts 10:34-43 tells how Peter began to accept, and to preach, a more inclusive, worldwide gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Jeremiah 31:1-6 (alternate) uses the resumption of planting and harvest as signs of a rebuilt, healthy, and prosperous community.
  • Colossians 3:1-4 challenges us to distinguish between God’s good creation and the sinful order Paul often identifies as “earthly.”
  • John 20:1-18 relates Mary being more right than she may have known when she supposed Jesus to be the gardener.
  • Matthew 28:1-10 (alternate) announces Jesus’ resurrection with an earthquake.

April 19, 2020 (Second Sunday of Easter)

  • Psalm 16 rejoices in divine protection, expressed as “boundary lines in pleasant places” and “a goodly heritage.”
  • 1 Peter 1:3-9 counsels patience through various trials that refine believers as gold is refined.
  • John 20:19-31 offers hope and peace in the midst of doubt.

April 26, 2020 (Third Sunday of Easter)

  • Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 reinforces gratitude for the blessings of earth, asking, “What shall I return to the LORD for all God’s bounty to me?”
  • 1 Peter 1:17-23 says, “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”
  • Luke 24:13-35 shows Jesus revealed to two disciples as they break bread together.

Patricia Tull’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “The Great Community,” focuses on ecological themes for preaching.