February 17, 2019 — Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany
Rev. Alison Quin
Living the Logos
I spent last weekend in Vermont, visiting friends who work on environmental issues. I learned about regenerative agriculture, a movement that is spreading among farmers.
Here is the gist of it. The methods we use in farming, especially on the biggest farms, initially really helped productivity. Through mechanization, we could plow much more land. Through chemical fertilizers, we could boost the productivity of degraded soil. Using pesticides, we could get rid of the insects that destroyed crops. And all this would help us feed more people at lower cost.
But we are now seeing the costs of that way of farming. Plowing causes the topsoil to blow away and destroys nutrients in the soil. Chemical fertilizers don’t repair the soil—they simply give the plants a boost. The plants grow tall and produce a lot, but the roots don’t grow very deep, and the food produced is not as nutritious. And fertilizers have all sorts of environmental impacts, especially on water. Pesticides are known to poison soil, water and air. All of these methods require large amounts of fossil fuel and contribute to global warming.
Regenerative agriculture focuses on restoring the health of the soil. Instead of plowing, they use planters to cut a line into the earth and drop seeds into it. The topsoil remains, as does the remnant of the crop from last year. Together, they provide moisture and nutrients to the plants. Compost further reduces the need for fertilizer. Planting what are called cover crops helps restore nitrogen and carbon in the soil, and by the way, helps reduce the carbon in the air. Diversifying crops and rotating livestock on the land also help with soil health.
Many farmers are using these methods and finding that they are able to produce as much or more food naturally and sustainably, and in the process, they are helping to slow the warming of the planet.
Instead of working against nature, these farmers are working with nature. We live in a biosphere that is perfectly designed to support life. If we align ourselves with the natural order, then we can keep the soil healthy and productive and feed everyone and even reduce the carbon in the atmosphere.
What a profound lesson—there is a divine order in the world, and if we align ourselves with it, we will flourish. If we don’t, we destroy the planet and ultimately ourselves.
This is a lesson not just for farming but for all of life. In today’s readings, both Jeremiah 17 and Psalm 1 call us to align ourselves with God and God’s ways. They promise that if we do so, we will flourish and if we don’t, we will not. Jeremiah says we will be like a shrub in the desert that won’t even know when relief comes. And Psalm 1 says we will blow away like chaff in the wind.
This is not because God curses us—it is, as in the example of agriculture, because there is a pattern to the world, and we are made to live according to that pattern.
We are made for relationship—with God, with our neighbor, with the earth. A lifestyle based on autonomous living, self-directed and self-centered striving will inevitably be frustrating and self-defeating. We are made in the image of God, and therefore we are made to live in and for community, in mutuality and love.
We become our truest and best selves by living in relationship with God and our neighbor and the created world. And we flourish, like trees planted by a stream, putting down roots and bearing fruit in due season.
This is not the prosperity gospel—Jeremiah is not saying that if you live according to God’s ways, you will have health and wealth and a perfect family. We know that isn’t true. Bad things happen to good people and people who are doing bad things sometimes prosper. But aligning ourselves with the divine wisdom that orders the world leads to true joy and fulfillment. And it is a joy that will not abandon us when times are hard. As Jeremiah says, that tree will not fear when heat comes, its leaves shall stay green. In the year of drought, it is not anxious—it will not cease to bear fruit.
What is our guide for living according to God’s ways? Jeremiah’s advice is straightforward—trust in God, not in human beings.
Psalm 1 has good counsel too—don’t hang out with people who are doing wrong, don’t follow the advice of the wicked, don’t listen to cynical people. Instead, meditate on God’s law night and day. God’s law means Scripture—in other words, spend time meditating on Scripture and you will find a wellspring of wisdom and strength and inspiration.
Jeremiah and Psalm 1 describe Jesus—he trusted in God, he meditated deeply on Scripture and he bore fruit—a life of love lived for others. The New Testament calls Jesus the wisdom of God, and the Logos, which means pattern or blueprint. His life reveals what we were born to become. Following him on the way of love aligns us with God and God’s creation and our true nature.
I want to close with a quote from Basil Pennington, a Trappist monk and a leader of the Centering Prayer movement:
“The fruit of meditation on the inspired Word of God is a life more like unto God’s, a life worthy of the image of God that we are.”
“Any who have . . . meditated upon the Law of the Lord day and night, know what a delight this saving Word becomes. It endows the whole of life with meaning and hope. I delight in the Law of the Lord because it shows me the sure way to come to the full realization of all the deepest aspirations of my being. My life is animated and made green with hope. It even, by God’s mercy, produces abundant fruit.”