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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Season of Creation – Fauna Sunday, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 8, 2013

Job 39:1-12,26-30; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 1:10-23; Luke 12:22-31

‘Our fauna family’

In the divine speech of Job 39, God addresses Job, calling attention to the Wisdom inherent in the Mountain Goat and the Deer and their birthing practice, and in the manner in which their young become able to care for themselves; in the free roaming of the wild Donkey as it forages for green grass; in the flight of the Hawk to the south and the nesting and preying habits of the Eagle. How does this information answer the query regarding the cause of Job’s suffering? The connection is not immediately apparent but such is the nature of the prophetic. God stirs the imagination of Job through a series of questions … and equips Job to recognise his own inadequacies and ignorance. In a roundabout way, Job becomes aware that the Wisdom of God is far from his comprehension. Still, the God who cares for the fauna of this world also cares for Job

Many see the fauna as just “dumb animals” and yet they are prophetic! Jesus says: “Take a lesson from the Ravens … [D]o not be so absorbed by the worries and cares of this life as to neglect what is really necessary: relationship with God” … The God who cares for the fauna of this world also cares for you. God be with you

One needs only to observe the natural world to see how it is tended by the gracious love and care of God. The examples cited in the Gospel involve creatures that are considered “dirty” (the Raven [like the Ibis here in Waterloo] is a scavenger), powerless, fragile, beautiful (lilies and flowers of the field), fleeting and transient (grass that is alive today and used as fuel the next). These are not necessarily less significant than human beings, although some might think so. The passage seeks to highlight the comprehensive nature of God’s love and care.

All creatures are equally important in God’s sight. We are asked not to worry or strive for food, drink and clothing, but to strive for the reign of God. A community that is characterised by the reign of God – justice, equality, peace, love – will also ensure the equitable sharing of life’s essentials … (Monica Melanchthon).

The observation of the fauna of this world can teach us much about the wonder of God’s creation and impress upon us the Wisdom enshrined in the mysterious and awesome workings of the natural world. It is that very same Wisdom that also oversees human beings. It is essential that we recognise our “creatureliness” and the inextricable link … with the rest of the Earth and its creatures. We are called to be sensitive to and live in sync with the prophetic Wisdom of the fauna and the Earth and discern within such biodiversity the Wisdom of God (Monica Melanchthon).

This is not pantheism. It has to do with the otherness of creatures (“non-human persons”) and the together-ness of life on Earth. The suffering love of Jesus – the Cross – connects human beings in a Spirit of compassion. In the same Spirit, the Cross connects us with all creatures who experience suffering, and, in their own ways, persevere, strive, live and love. Beginning to discern the Wisdom of God, with suffering/loving members of the fauna family, relativises all-too human concerns for power and status – for dominance.

Paul sees that the Cross is key – that its meaning cannot be measured in terms of conventional or mere human wisdom. From a conventional perspective, the suffering of the weak – including animals in bondage or at the mercy of human needs, desires and projects – is unfortunate, regrettable, tragic. How can it represent the saving power of God? How can it be a sign of real Wisdom? It can be, and it is, says Paul, for those who believe – that is, for those who experience compassion – existential and expansive.

We can know this saving power today. In the Spirit of compassion – existential and expansive – we’re invited to focus on endangered species (yesterday was National Threatened Species Day, September 7 being the day in 1936 when the last Tasmanian Tiger died in the Hobart Zoo). The creatures of Earth are our kin. We have all emerged from Earth and return to Earth. The loss or survival of a given species is a family matter. Again, there is much to learn from Indigenous peoples, who have a rich spiritual kinship with the animal world, with their totem or dreaming as well as with the land where they live.

Australia, alas, has one of the worst extinction records in the world. This weekend’s Herald carries a story about the Orange-bellied Parrot. Fewer than 50 are believed to live in the wild. Every summer the birds breed in south-west Tasmania. There they are met by a recovery team that monitors them, provides feed and maintains nest boxes. In colder months the parrots migrate to the saltmarshes of Victoria and South Australia. Funding is sorely needed – state and federal funding – for captive breeding and habitat restoration …

You may not have heard of the Gulbaru Gecko. Ancient and spectacular, this endangered gecko has one of the smallest distributions of any Australian animal. The Gulbaru inhabits two tiny areas – 10sqkm and 4sqkm – approximately 35km west of Townsville, in Patterson’s Gorge at the southern end of the Paluma Range. Despite being highly distinctive and close to a city, the Gulbaru was only discovered in 2001 and named in 2003. The Gulbaru Gecko is a reptile that persists. It has done so for a long time and with a little management to protect its rainforest habitat it will continue to do so …

Some good post-election news. The Coalition government, according to the former shadow environment minister Greg Hunt, will instate a Commissioner for Threatened Species. The minister has said that, while management plans for threatened species exist, they have not been enacted thoroughly enough …

Closer to home, the City of Sydney has just released a Draft Urban Ecology Strategic Action Plan. Urban ecology is the study of the relationship between living organisms and their environment in an urban context.

Biodiversity provides the ecological processes including ecosystem services that are essential for the survival of humans and all other living organisms. These include maintenance of oxygen in, and absorbing pollutants from, the air; soil enrichment; water purification; plant pollination; food production; pest control; climate regulation; decomposition of organic waste; and erosion control. Our local biodiversity has been greatly reduced from its original state and it’s important that we protect what remains.

According to the City’s survey, a total of 99 fauna species inhabit the Local Government Area, comprising 87 indigenous species and 12 introduced species. Three of the fauna species recorded, the Green and Golden Bell Frog, Grey-headed Flying-fox, Powerful Owl, and one of the “unconfirmed species”, the Eastern Bent-wing Bat, are listed as threatened species. Long-nosed Bandicoots in the LGA may be part of an endangered population. Further, “priority species” include the Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog and Perons Tree Frog; microbats such as Gould’s Wattled Bat and the Little Forest Bat; small birds such as the Superb Fairy-wren, New Holland Honeyeater and Silvereye; freshwater wetland birds such as the Australian Reed-warbler and Royal Spoonbill; and reptiles such as the Eastern Blue-tongue and Gully Skink.

Numerous threats to biodiversity are identified: limited habitat; lack of habitat connectivity; low genetic diversity; weed invasion; use of chemical herbicides and pesticides; introduced fauna; diseases and pathogens; poor water quality; light, noise, traffic; and climate change.

Two broad types of action are outlined in the Plan. General actions require implementation across the City, for example: park and streetscape maintenance; planning controls; and community engagement. Specific actions relate to priority sites such as Sydney Park, the Glebe Foreshore and the Royal Botanic Gardens, as well as priority fauna species.

The Plan, part of the Sustainable Sydney 2030 vision, will be implemented over a 10-year period.

Greens Councillor Irene Doutney says: “The Plan, which has been promised for most of the time I’ve been on Council, sets out how the City will manage the small amounts of natural habitat and biodiversity that it retains from before European invasion as well as outlining steps to create new habitat and increase the populations of struggling species. The Plan follows on from some good work that the City has done over the last few years, such as establishing an artificial wetland habitat in Sydney Park …”

“I call on anyone passionate about our urban environments to make a submission to Council while the Plan is on exhibition by going to http://sydneyyoursay.com.au/article/make-friends-with-urban-wildlife-and-create-biodiversity-for-a-liveable-city. The Plan is long but it’s an interesting document, and you don’t have to read the whole thing to make a submission. Submissions are open until the 20th of September.”

The Season of Creation liturgical resources invite human believers to join in worship with a diverse fauna family. “All our kin living on this planet, from the busiest Bee to the tallest Giraffe. We remember our ancient relatives who became extinct: Dinosaurs, Dodos and Tasmanian Tigers, Giant Marsupials and the Woolly Mammoths. We join our brothers and sisters in praising God: gliding Eagles and watchful Meerkats, Gorillas in the mist and Polar Bears in the snow. We summon the kin we have come to love: the stray Cat and the backyard Dog, the Koala, the Pony, and the little Lamb. All our fauna family in the wild: raise your voices to the skies in a family festival of praise. Sing, family, sing! A fauna song of praise!” Amen.