Deuteronomy 22:6-7

Treatment of Animals

One of my favorite movies of all time is Dances With Wolves. It is a revealing look at the culture of the Lakota tribe of the Sioux nation of native Americans in contrast to the American culture with its origins in western Europe. Throughout the movie, you see the excesses of our Western culture. At the US army’s most western outpost, Fort Sedgwick, finds trash and animal carcasses strewn over a wide area in an “out of sight, out of mind” area near the outpost. It is horrid nastiness of the use-it-up-and-throw-it-way mentality that still exists among many of us Americans today. The mess was so bad that it had polluted the pond or creek that was nearby.

 

However, the most chilling and depressing scene about the excesses of our American culture was the “skinned buffalo scene.” In that scene, where John Dunbar (Kevin Costner, the film’s director and lead actor) and the Indian tribe are trying to track down a large herd of buffalo, they come across a field skinned buffalo were left to rot in summer sun. The buffalo were killed for sport and for economic interest. The only thing that mattered to the white poachers was the hides of the animals. By contrast, the Lakota tribe only killed the buffalo that were sufficient to provide food and clothing for the tribe for the winter months. All other buffalo were allowed to live. Further, the Lakota used every bit of the buffalos that they killed. They made clothing, food, weapons, etc. out of the fur pelts, meat, and bones of the buffalo. They were very efficient and simple people. You saw no gargantuan trash piles among Indian tribes of the era. Native American Indians respected nature with a high reverence and had not removed themselves from it as white culture had begun to do as of this era. There was a simple beauty to the oneness with nature of the Lakota tribe compared to the ruthless greed of our American culture. We use things up and toss them aside. One of the deduced commentaries of the movie was that how we Americans treat nature is an indication of how we are as a people. We use things up and throw them away. We have no care about what impact we have on the world around us as long as our own personal needs met.

 

We can say that we care about nature now as we sip on our frappes and talk about animal rights and going green at the Starbucks made from all manner of disposable items as we watch TV on big screens that will be tossed in the trash in five years as we hook up wifi on computers that will be thrown in the trash in three and then we toss our plastic cup in the trash. That gets taken to the dumpster out back. And the dumpster out back gets loaded into a large trash truck that gets hauled to a nearby landfill. Here in Spartanburg County, SC, we have several huge landfills one of which you can clearly see from Interstate 85 as you pass by the Duncan/Moore, SC exit (Exit 63) as you pass through our area. It is huge. We call it Mount Trashmore here. I have never seen anything like it. It rises probably 10 stories in height above the local landscape. And, that’s just Spartanburg County, SC. The population of this county is only about 300,000 people. It is nowhere near as big as our neighbor county, Greenville, which has about 500,000 plus people. And we have huge landfills here. What about metroplexes like Atlanta, Charlotte, and New York City. Can you imagine the trash generated in densely populated urban centers like these? Will be run out of space one day in our disposable society. Will we ever be drowned by our own trash. Will be ruin what God has given us to the point that we kill ourselves off. Maybe it won’t be nuclear holocaust or some pandemic disease that will kill us off. Maybe it will be the common diseases of the nastiness caused by our cumulative centuries of piling trash upon trash upon trash of our disposable societies. Maybe will won’t be killed off by some global flashy event but rather by the ugliness of our trash.

 

What does this have to do with our passage today? A lot I would say. It may seem like a random passage stuck in the middle of other higher level regulations but this one struck me in its beauty and its implications. Immediately, I thought of one of my top ten favorite movies of all-time, Dances With Wolves and about how there was a symbiotic relationship of the Indians to the nature that surrounded them and how that is contrasted with the disposable mastery of nature society in which we live. What does that say about us and what does God think about it? Let’s read the short passage, two verses, of Deuteronomy 22:6-7, together now:

 

6 If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. 7 You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.

 

What do Dances With Wolves, Starbucks plastic cups, and mountains of trash have to do with this passage? It’s like an analogy “‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by observing its prisoners.’ Dostoevsky said that about the moral fiber of a nation can be judged by how well it treats its criminals locked up in prison. Similarly, how we treat the world around us, nature, says something about who we are as people.

 

Here, God commands us to show kindness to animals. Why does he do that and do that here in this sequence of commands. God simply and plainly commanded kindness to animals. Even a bird’s nest was to be given special consideration and care. Some Jewish commentators say that this is the smallest, or least of all the commandments; yet even it has a promise of blessing for the obedient attached to it: That it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days. If Israel would obey this commandment, they would find blessing and long life, both as individuals and as a nation. What possible connection can there be between showing kindness to bird’s nests and eggs and little baby birds and national survival?

 

First, because obedience to the smallest of God’s commands brings blessing. It puts us into a properly submissive relationship to Him, that this always brings blessing to us. Second, because kindness and gentleness in the small things often speaks to our ability to be kind and gentle in weightier matters. If someone is cruel to animals, they are also much more likely to be cruel to people. If Israel allowed such cruelty to flourish, it would harm the nation.

 

Jesus said in Luke 16:10 says, “”Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” God calls us to obey Him even in the little things and from that obedience in the big things flows. So, how we care for His creation, Earth, is an indication of how much we can be trusted with weightier things. I am not saying that we need to go back and live like Indians but we must be as responsible as we can about this planet and the animals that God has given us dominion over. We must treat our world with dignity and respect accorded to something that is created by God. Maybe, just maybe, if we do that small thing, we may can begin to treat each other with dignity and respect. We need to treat our world and the people in it with the respect accorded to One who created it all, Our Father In Heaven.

 

Amen and Amen.

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