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Flora and Fauna Sunday

Sermon for Week Two of the Season of Creation

Readings: Job 39:1–8, 26–30; 1 Corinthians 1:10–23 & Luke 12:22–31

This week, in week two of the Season of Creation, we celebrate Flora and Fauna Sunday. 

Before I go any further, I have a question for you from my sermon last week. Who can remember what percentage of the Earth’s surface is covered by the ocean? The answer is 70.8%. So, based on that, what percentage of all life on Earth do you think is the ocean is home to? Would you be as amazed as I was to learn that it is home to only 1% of all life on Earth?

To put this in context, let me start by saying that life on Earth is measured in terms of “biomass”, which is the total amount of carbon produced by all of the various forms of life (plants, animals, humans and bacteria). Only 1% of the Earth’s biomass can be found in the ocean. Plants account for 82.4% of the Earth’s biomass, with bacteria coming in second at 13%. The animal kingdom accounts for 0.4%, while humans represent a paltry 0.01%.  

Another way to look at life is in terms of species. A 2021 report published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed a total of 2.13 million species on the planet that had been identified and named. Almost half (1.05 million) were insects, while there were in excess of 400,000 plants, over 11,000 birds, more than 11,000 reptiles, and over 6,000 mammals. However, this is not the definitive list of all species on the planet; it has been estimated there are more than 8.7 million species in total.

The Bible tells us through the ‘Creation Story’ in the Book of Genesis that God created life on earth: 

  • ‘Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.’ (Genesis 1:11 NRSV) 
  • ‘So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.’ (Genesis 1:21 NRSV) 
  • ‘And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so.’ (Genesis 1:24 NRSV) 
  • ‘Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”’ (Genesis 1:26 NRSV)

Naturally, the scientific world has several different views on the origins of life and species. Perhaps the most well known, and best-substantiated view, is the ‘theory of evolution’. The Theory of Evolution by natural selection was first formulated in Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” published in 1859. In his book, Darwin describes how organisms evolve over generations through the inheritance of physical or behavioural traits. According to the theory, individuals with traits that enable them to adapt to their environments will help them survive and have more offspring, which will inherit those traits. Individuals with less adaptive traits will less frequently survive to pass them on. Over time, the traits that enable species to survive and reproduce will become more frequent in the population and the population will change, or evolve. 

Counter to the theory of evolution is the ‘intelligent design argument’, an argument for the existence of God or, more generally, that complex functionality in the natural world which looks designed is evidence of an intelligent creator. The earliest recorded versions of this argument are associated with Socrates in ancient Greece. Plato and Aristotle built on the work of Socrates to develop complex approaches to the proposal that the cosmos has an intelligent cause. 

I don’t profess to have a detailed knowledge or understanding of either the ‘theory of evolution’ or the ‘intelligent design argument’, but with the limited knowledge and understanding that I do have, I’m quite comfortable to think the two can coexist. I’m happy to accept that an ‘intelligent designer’, let’s call that designer God, designed the physical or behavioural traits which Darwin argued enabled organisms to adapt to their environment and evolve. This leads me to our reading today from the Book of Job.

However, before I look at today’s reading, let’s go back to last Sunday’s reading from the Old Testament, which was also from the Book of Job. The context for the reading is that Job has suffered great loss and sadness. As he seeks to understand why this has happened to him, he has protested that it can’t be because of anything he has done wrong. God then answered Job, challenging his knowledge of what’s involved in creating and sustaining the complex and orderly nature of the universe. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” (Job 38:4–5 NRSV)

In today’s reading from the Book of Job, God continues his interrogation of Job, this time in relation to the nature of the animal kingdom. “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer? Can you number the months that they fulfil, and do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch to give birth to their offspring, and are delivered of their young?” (Job 39:1–3 NRSV) And God goes on to specifically question Job about a number of particular species of animals.

Perhaps we too, like Job, can become complacent about the vast and astonishing world around us. We can often just take for granted the beauty and wonder of the incredibly diverse range of flora and fauna that surround us every day, and we can fail to acknowledge God’s presence in creation. To quote from our Collect earlier this morning, “We care far too little for your great work.” 

So let’s remind ourselves of another aspect of today’s Collect: “Gracious God of all creation, guide us to a deep sense of appreciation for what you, our loving Creator, have done for us. Who are ourselves a part of your creation. Amen.”

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