Wild Lectionary: Invitation to Humility – Invite Grasses

Children learning about biodiversity and native plants at New Life Lutheran’s summer gardening camp. Photo by Greg McCord

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost,
Proper 17 (22)

Luke 14:1, 7-14
By Carmen Retzlaff

14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

In Central Texas, one of the signs that a local naturalist has slipped over the edge, into the rocky and nerdy social territory,  is when they fall in love with native grasses. First they will just marvel at the indigenous bunch grasses. They’ll recognize a healthy grassland, where these compact plants take just the compact space they need, and allow for biodiversity, as opposed to invasive grasses, which blanket the earth and keep other things from growing. The grass-enamored naturalist will smile when they see patches of side oats grama or bushy bluestem, knowing how deep the roots extend into the clay and limestone, pulling precious rainwater into acquifers. They’ll be mesmerized by the sight of swaths of purple-tinged seep muhly.

The grass lovers have crossed into an obsessive nature crush when they begin to use the latin names of the grasses: Bouteloua curtipendula, Andropogon glomeratus, and Muhlenbergia reverchonii. When they pick a piece of grass not to chew on or even admire, but to check out the shapes of the ligule and sheaf, for correct identification.

As a Texas Master Naturalist and the pastor of an outdoor church, I’m in the enamored phase with the grasses of this land. But I admire the hardcore trained botanists and enthusiastic amateurs who can spend hours in a small patch of prairie in wonder at the many species in a place others see only weeds. They have invited the grasses to their banquet.

In the gospel passage from Luke this week, Jesus invites us into humility, he invites us in to a new way of inviting. We are invited to see things like social order from a new perspective, from God’s perspective. In the eyes of the Creator, I am sure the earth is not an image of humans-and-all-the-other-things. I believe God doesn’t see a chain or a pyramid, but an ecosystem, a web of relationships, all together created in the image of the God who is so relational as to be in relationship with Godself in the Trinity.

If we are invited to be humble and to invite those who we would not consider, perhaps we are invited to invite not just the humans we tend to overlook, but all the ones with whom we are enmeshed in this beautiful web of creation. And not just the “charismatic megafauna” as conservationists point out – the animals humans love to love, and who get all the attention and grant dollars. At our church, the charismatic megafauna (I love that phrase) are the white-tailed deer, the roadrunners, and the giant jackrabbits (so mega – and so charismatic – they are huge and huge with personality and they act like they own the place, hopping lazily, beautifully, a little resentfully out of the tent when humans need it for worship or meeting). We invite them, but also the grass on which they walk, run or hop.

We are invited to humble ourselves, to see ourselves as not the pinnacle of creation, but just one of the things working together to reflect God’s image, to sing a collective song of praise. Like the grasses, the image of humility – beautiful and unique when you pay attention, but easily overlooked. The grasses, though, repay us far more than we give them – they pull precious water down into underground streams, which is miraculous and life-giving in this semi-arid land. If we were to follow Jesus and invite those who don’t repay humans, perhaps we would look at the beetles or roly-polies. Maybe the ubiquitous and aggressive ash juniper. The prickly pear cactus.

God invites us all to this banquet of life, of course. But by paying attention, by loving the other creations around us, we humble ourselves, and invite into our lives joys not anticipated.

The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center preserves and celebrates native plants in Central Texas: check out their beautiful photos of grasses. Their online plant library is a gift to all. For more about the Master Naturalist program see https://txmn.org/
The Reverend Carmen Retzlaff is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)  , and pastor of New Life Lutheran Church of Dripping Springs, Texas,  an outdoor church and a member of the Wild Church Network. New Life is in the Texas Hill Country, in the watershed of the Colorado River, atop the Trinity Aquifer, just at the edge of the Edward’s Plateau an the giant Edwards aquifer. New Life is on 12 acres of ancestral homelands of the Tonkawa people.

Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.

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