For Land Sunday
Year A, Proper 19
The reflections on this page are part of a request from David Rhoads,
Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago,
for MEESC members to offer ecological sermon notes for the alternative
lectionary lessons for Creation Season Sundays in 2005 for use by
pastors. This is the second of the selected Sundays, September
11, 2005, which corresponds in the Lectionary used by the Episcopal
Church as Proper 19.
In the "alternative lectionary lessons" of the Revised
Common Lectionary, the readings are from the following:
114 or Exodus
14:1-12; and Matthew
103:(1-7), 8-13; Romans
14:1-12; and Matthew
Psalm excerpt for today (Psalm 96, vs
let the field exult, and everything in it.
"This Land is your Land, this Land is my Land (from California
to the New York islands.)..." .
In cultural terms, "land" may be a country, and "homeland"
a place where one has a deep sense of belonging. Many countries'
names describe their setting: Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland....
Other place names are the land of a people: Scotland, Thailand,
Finland.... Political boundaries define these lands.
In physical terms, land is the part of the earth differentiated
from the oceans. In creation, God separated the water from the dry
land, and the land is certainly the portion where most humans and
higher animals make their home and find their food. Varying formations
of the land add diverse images to what we think of as landscape:
farmland, wetland, wasteland....
In spiritual terms, The Holy Land is the country where Jesus lived,
where the Gospel stories are set. It is sacred, as well, to Jews
as the setting for most of the history of the Hebrew people, and
to Muslims in their history. Many Christian pilgrims have felt a
deep sense of awe walking in places where Jesus walked, seeing sights
he would have seen, praying in the garden of Gethsemene as Jesus
did. It is Holy Land, indeed!
Shrines and memorial sites all over the world attest to the human
inclination to remember significant people and events by marking
the place of a happening, and calling the place sacred. We may treat
our church yards as sacred space, and most particularly our cemeteries,
where our families are buried. Ancestral burial grounds are deemed
sacred for generations in some cultures, and have led to protests
of future development for other use.
About ten years ago the Minnesota Episcopal Environmental Stewardship
Commission considered submitting a resolution to its diocesan convention,
asking that Episcopalians in Minnesota consider the Boundary Waters
Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota be considered sacred land. Sacred
in the sense that it is preserved as wilderness, keeping it as nearly
as possible the way God created it. Letting wildness be. Letting
natural succession occur. The discussion within the group led to
deeper thinking about sacred ground and sacred places. And the question
arises: is the place different because we name it so? What is "holy
ground"? Or is it all holy, all sacred because it is part of
God's gift of creation? Can we ever do more than be stewards of
the earth, perhaps landscaping according to present use of land,
always keeping in mind that "the earth is the Lord's, and all
that therein is"?
Short Notes on Land, Humanity, and God
by John G. Gibbs, PhD
Observations such as these may be useful in focusing our attention
on Land in its relation to both us humans and God the Creator.
First: Concordances of biblical texts show the amount of
attention that biblical literature gives to the land. John R. Kohlenberger,
III's The New NRSV Concordance Unabridged (Zondervan, 1991)
takes 7 pages to list the occurrences of "land," citing
each chapter and verse, and providing for each occurrence a single
line quoting how that word occurs in that location.
Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible (London:
Lutterworth, 1939 reprinted 1952) displays the KJV renditions of
Hebrew and Greek words, thereby showing us the nuances of meaning.
For instance, adamah is variously translated as "land,
earth, ground, firm soil," and notice that adam (humanity)
was not translated but only transliterated as "Adam."
It is thus clear that the Genesis creation sagas emphasize the intimate
bond between earth and the humanity that God raises up from the
earth. Erets refers to "land, earth, country,"
and that word is the one used most frequently, 3 pages being required
to list its occurrences. Sadeh is translated by KJV as "field,
country, level place." The Greek words are agros (field),
ge (earth), xeros (dry land), chora (place,
region), and chorion (a small place, spot). "Land"
can be as expansive as the whole earth or as small as a tract or
a certain field. "Land" can be the dirt beneath our feet
or a whole country.
Second: The World Business Council for Sustainable Development
released on August 9, 2005 a report stating that "World Land
Use Is Top Environmental Issue." The report is published in
the July 22, 2005 issue of the journal Science. A climatologist
at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Joanathan A. Foley, is
the lead author of that report, and he concludes: "Land use
has gone beyond being a local environmental issue. The global-scale
impacts are greater than the sum of local events. Land use is having
a transformative effect on the planet." Western-style agriculture,
especially agribusiness, is unsustainable for the earth as a whole.
Land use by humans may be "the most significant impact on the
Third: Perspectives on land vary widely from one culture
to another. Dramatically different assumptions about land, and human
relationships to it, account for many misunderstandings between
American Indians and early colonists. Who owns the land? "The
earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those
who live in it" (Psalm 24:1). That being the case, what
does it mean to have a contract for deed, or a deed that states
ownership rights over a certain surveyed and legally described piece
Could it be that American Indians were closer to the psalmist's
point of view than were European immigrants who invaded North America?
Donald W. Shriver, Jr., Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough
to Remember Its Misdeeds (Oxford University Press, 2005), pp.
225-27, 240-41, 254-60 graphically portrays the poignant conflict
between British jurisprudential and European capitalism's view of
land during the colonial period and, on the other hand, American
Indian relationships to land. He instances colonial mistreatment
of the Mohicans of Columbia County, NY, a history that was "a
cameo of what would become continent-wide exploitation" (226).
An Indian could sell something man-made such as a metal pot, and
know that "the seller had no right of arbitrary repossession.
But land was different. It was home. It was the place where the
ancestors had lived from time immemorial and where they were buried.
It was host to the wild animals that sustained human life through
the winter. It could sustain a variable number of human lives, as
migrants came and went, as one tract of land declined in its usefulness,
as it underwent some years of natural restoration, after which it
could be reinhabited. This complex of concepts combined with Indian
belief in the spirit and ancestral presences in the land to render
the European, especially English, idea of possession ('fee simple')
as absurd" (225). It is not we who have the land, but the land
that has us. "How unreasonable to think that a piece of paper
a century old forever determined who could use a piece of land!
It was a momentous collision of cultures" (226).
Fourth: Land does not stand alone. It implies community.
Land is place for plants, animals, and humans, all living in holistic
ecology. Human culture and social mores impact for ill or for good
the land and all other creatures that depend on the land. Human
destructiveness toward other human persons and cultures spills over
into the environment. The "sufferings of this present time"
include "the whole creation" that "has been groaning
in labor pains" as it "waits with eager longing for the
revealing of the children of God" (Romans 8:18-23).
Fifth: Land is of value in itself, for God created it and
deemed it "good" (Genesis 1). Created as such, the earth
by its very existence joins in the cosmic acclamation of the Creator.
Psalm 96:7-13 calls on "the nations" and the material
world together to praise the Lord who is "king." "Let
the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar,
and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it"
(96:11-12). We humans are not alone in our worship of God. The lands
beneath and around us are there with us in our praise to God.
Sixth: Richard Cartwright Austins 3rd volume in his
Environmental Theology 4-volume series is titled Hope
for the Land: Nature in the Bible (PO Box 331, Abingdon, VA
24210: Creekside Press, 1990). Dick Austin rightly maintains: Biblical
ecology projects moral visions which embrace a future for nature
as well as culture. The Lords promise of redemption extends
to the whole created ecology. The biblical vision is not so much
a perfect end as a new beginning, a jubilee. All species
may be reconciled in Jesus, the Lamb of God, to achieve abundance
and peace. Further: Through Sabbath reflection Hebrews
discovered design in the relations between the Lord, humanity, and
nature which became an inspired architecture for justice--a biblical
ecology (87). Further: Since land was a part of the
covenant community, it could not be treated as a commodity to be
exchanged at ones convenience (91). The most difficult
part of farming in Canaan was not the physical labor but obedience
to God and moral sensitivity to intricate natural relationships
(90). [see Deuteronomy 11:1-2, 10-15 New English Bible]
Rev Deacon Helen
Hanten, is deacon emeritus at
and a member of St. Andrew's by-the-Lake Episcopal Church, Duluth,
MN. She originally wrote these notes in 2005.
G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal
Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote these notes in 2005.
Helen, John, and we welcome your comments.
Please address your comments or additional reflections to Helen
Hanten or John
Gibbs or any MEESC
member, or mail them to:
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55734-4400 USA
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