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A World Made of Gifts 1

Genesis 1, condensed and adapted
Matthew 6:26-33, from the Common English Bible

When I was born many years ago, early on a late January morning, the world was already made. I didn’t have to do a thing but breathe and eat and pee and poop. I didn’t have to do anything but receive what had been created and prepared for me.

I don’t remember it, but I am told that I began receiving the world’s gifts even before I was born. The microscopic bundle of cells that became me took in DNA from both my parents, and my organs and limbs, blood vessels and brain received nutrients and protection from my mother’s body.

When I emerged from that security and was delivered into a bright light, there were skilled hands to catch me and caring arms to hold my tiny little body. There was oxygen to fill my lungs, warm water to clean me, and two stunned 19-year-olds to name me and call me their own.

With my dad in his second year of college and my mom on leave from her job as a oil company secretary, there was not a lot of money to go around. My mom’s parents didn’t have a telephone, so someone had to call the Gibsons, and then they drove to the house on the highway deep in the piney woods of East Texas to tell Mr. and Mrs. Moore they had a granddaughter.

But none of that was of any concern to me. I didn’t know from phones and cars and college and jobs and roads; I didn’t even know about parents and grandparents or sun and moon, stars and sea. I didn’t know it, but I was little more than body and soul, a created being made in the divine image. I didn’t know my name or who I was or what I would become. More to the point, I didn’t know what I would eat or where it would come from.

Even more to the point is that I didn’t need to know. Like you and every generation before us and every human that has ever lived, I was born into a ready-made world. We all were born into a world made of gifts. We were born into a world of abundance and interdependence, a world of unknown origins, unfathomable complexity, wondrous beauty, astonishing diversity, and remarkably routine cycles of birth and life and death and rebirth, planting and growth and harvest, migration and return, transformation and renewal. We were born into a world where the earth feeds our hearts as well as our bodies. We were born sitting in the shade of trees we did not plant and drinking water from wells we did not dig, drawing on a Love that loved us first.

Virtually all creation stories agree on that much: That we are not our own. That while we did not make the world, we have received it into our care. That it is extravagant beyond all imagining. That everything is of a piece, working together for the good of all. That all beings and all creation are given and shared and sacred and good. That we have been given everything we need, and that all we have is gift. That we live in a world made of gifts, and that all life is made to be life-giving.

But our history also tells us something else: That somewhere along the line we forgot that all was given to us. We forgot the natural order of things, and we no longer remembered or experienced the original blessing of love and harmony and interdependence, relationship and reciprocity. And then we humans began to fear that we didn’t have enough. We began to grow dissatisfied with receiving life’s gifts; we wanted to be in control. We began to want more, and we began to be willing to kill one another for it.

We began to worry and strive, to use and abuse. We began to forget our beginnings.

Somewhere along the line, I, too, began to worry. That blessed little being who was born without a care in the world, with everything she could possibly need, began to experience herself as separate from creation and other creatures. I began to struggle and strive.

And so it is that while we all were born into a world made of gifts, we also were born into a world torn apart—separated from the Love that made us, severed from our natural bond with creation, divided from one another, and sometimes even disconnected from ourselves.

Afraid that we won’t have enough, we focus on buying and taking and using. Deceived into thinking that our worth is in wealth,  we value having over sharing. Schooled in fables about self-made people and trained to be Number One, we work for independence more than interdependence.

But Jesus calls us away from fear and worry and striving. Jesus calls us home—to our Source, to our true selves, community, to abundance, to restoration and re-story-ation, to “live again in a world made of gifts.”

“Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness,” he says, “and all these [other] things will be given to you.”

This is the time of year when we talk about generosity and giving, when we try to inspire you to give generously to this church. And it is about so much more than that. It is also about our “great longing” for oneness and harmony and mutual flourishing. It is about our own spiritual well-being, the nurture and celebration of interdependence, the restoration of relationship, the kind of reciprocity that produces abundance, and nothing short than the renewal of creation.

It is about creating through this church a realm of God in miniature that cares for all creation and all God’s children, that helps to set the world aright. It is about living in the world made of gifts with open and generous hearts so that we might work with Spirit to mend the world torn apart.

In one of the creation stories of the original peoples of the Great Lakes region, a woman falls through a hole of light in Skyworld to dark water below. After her fall is broken by a gaggle of geese, all the animals of the waters gather to protect Skywoman. She has come bearing branches and seeds torn from the Tree of Life, but she cannot survive in water; she needs land. While a turtle offers his back for her to rest upon, one by one the water creatures dive down into the deep in search of land. They all fail, including the muskrat, whose dead body finally floats to the surface. But clutched in one of his paws is a little bit of mud.

Skywoman spreads the mud on the turtle’s back, and then begins to dance her thanksgiving for all the animals had given her. As she expressed her gratitude, the land on the turtle’s back grew and grew until the earth was made. According to the story, it is from Skywoman’s fall, the cooperation and generosity of the animals, and Skywoman’s gratitude, that our home was made.

The story also says that sweetgrass was the first plant to grow on the earth, and in native tradition it is called the hair of Mother Earth. Braided sweetgrass is a symbol of care for the earth, and it is given and received as a token of gratitude and kindness.

Today and over the coming weeks, I share with you this sweetgrass braid, given to my friend Phil by a native tribe in Oklahoma. Phil gave the braid to his wife, my friend Charlotte, as she left their home on the Potomac River to travel to Connecticut for a retreat with botanist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer. And, as the retreat ended, Charlotte gave it to me.

As we consider what we can bring to our church and to this great world made of gifts we have received, may this sweetgrass braid be a symbol of the gifts that keep giving—the gifts that come to us in Love, the gifts that make our lives possible, the gifts that sustain our church, and the gifts that restore and remake the world.

1 This phrase and a few others set off by quotation marks come from Robin Wall Kimmerer and her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, published by Milkweed Editions in 2013.