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Sermon delivered by Rev. Bruce Ray on Sunday, October 3, 2021

Today, we are concluding our series “Creation is Waiting / La Creación Espera” with a recognition of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is best known as the patron saint of animals and the environment, and he is often depicted surrounded by animals of all kinds. He believed that faith and care for God’s creatures went hand-in-hand and he considered all of God’s creatures to be our sisters and brothers. Stories are told of how he would go into the forests and preach to the birds and animals and trees, calling them to love and praise their creator.

Every year on or around October 4, Christians throughout the world celebrate the Feast of St. Francis with prayers for creation and a blessing of the animals. We will follow this tradition later in our service.

I’m so glad that we shared the story, “The Tantrum That Saved the World,” with the children today. I think Sophia – the girl in the story – and St. Francis would be great friends. I think St. Francis would be very sad to see what is happening to our sisters and brothers because of climate change and the destruction of habitat for animals, birds and people. I think St. Francis would be angry that so many animal voices have been lost. One of those voices belonged to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was the largest species of woodpecker in North America. Its wingspan was 3 ft with a flaming red crown and two white stripes down it’s side. People would see the huge, strikingly beautiful bird in the swamps and bayous of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana and would say, “Lord God!” It became known as the “Lord God Bird.”

There is only one video and audio recording of the Lord God Bird in existence. It was filmed and recorded in 1935.

The Lord God Bird doesn’t exist anymore. The woodpecker was last seen in Louisiana in 1944. This week, it was officially declared extinct by the US Fish and Wildlife service.

What happened? The Lord God bird is no more because human greed and ignorance destroyed its home. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, wrote a song “Lord God Bird” suggesting that the bird was sacrificed on the altar of the industrial god by a sewing machine. Yep. A sewing machine.

The Ivory-billed woodpecker was doing just fine until the industrial revolution of the 1800s. In 1911, the Singer Company purchased over 80,000 acres of old growth forests in Arkansas that was a prime habitat of the Ivory-billed woodpecker. The company cut down the trees to make the cabinets for their famous sewing machines. Conservationists warned that the logging would put the woodpecker in danger. But despite efforts to protect the bird and the land, Singer Company sold the land in 1937 to the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company for more extensive logging. Within 6 years, there were no more ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Now a lot of people would say, “It’s just a bird!” But after reading the Scriptures today (Genesis 7:11-16, Psalm 104:24-31, and Matthew 6:25-33), I’m reminded that every bird, every animal, every tree and every flower is part of God’s wondrous creation—made by God at creation, preserved by God during the Great Flood, cared for by God throughout time. Human beings may be made in the image of God, but that does not diminish the worth of all other creatures. They too have a purpose in God’s plan. They too are made to display God’s glory and sing God’s praise.

And as God’s “Image-bearers” we have a responsibility is to do as God would do. That includes protecting all of God’s creatures from harm and providing for their well-being. It means preserving their voices and ensuring that they call fulfill God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. It means to loving them as God loves them.

While we (collective humanity) failed to prevent the extinction of the Ivory-billed woodpecker, dozens of species on the verge of extinction have been saved thanks to one piece of government legislation: the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Act identified threatened, endangered and critically endangered species for the purpose of protecting them and restoring them to sustainable numbers so they would no longer need federal protection.

For almost 50 years, dozens of species have recovered thanks to the Act including Humpback whales, American Bison, bald eagles, and California Condors. Chicago has participated in saving an endangered species too. We all know Monty and Rose, the beach-loving piping plovers who have returned to Montrose Harbor every year since 2019 to nest and hatch their eggs. This year, the pair successfully hatched 3 new little piping plovers, aiding efforts to ensure their survival as a species.

We’ve made progress, but there are hundreds of other species that need our protection. And progress is never guaranteed. Human greed and ignorance can reverse even the best environmental policy. So we must always be vigilant and watchful.

Creation is waiting. So on this day, let us rise up like St. Francis and pray a blessing over creation and then take action to protect the voices of our sisters and brothers. Let’s be the “righteous ones who take care of the needs of the animals” (Proverbs 12:10a). Let us pray for creation and bless our brothers and sisters, the creatures of the earth, and then go “throw a tantrum.”


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