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1/26/2020 - Fungi: A Network - Becca Griffin - Brookmeade Congregational UCC, Nashville, TN

“Fungi: A Network” -  A Sermon by Becca Griffin delivered in the company of Brookmeade Congregational Church, UCC, Nashville, TN, 1/26/2019 (click here for audio)

This Sunday was UCC Health and Human Services Sunday/Affirmation of Ministry, we acknowledge the wonderful things our greater connection is doing and working toward as we do our local work here on our various teams.  What a great thing it is to be part of a wider community of care, what a great thing to be part of this community at Brookmeade, caring for each other and our world.

The internet is a wonderful thing.  Most of the time? Some of the time?  Sometimes it’s difficult to nail down the internet’s purpose, though it has been described as something for “all of us.” It does help us communicate.  This is crucial, but what is it’s overall purpose? I suppose that is up to those using it.

Fungi communicates in a network similar to the internet according to Fantastic Fungi, a documentary currently showing at the Belcourt Theater.  Fungi are this vast network of mycelium underground, spores everywhere, mushrooms and fungi working to decay and regenerate or recycle or reuse organic matter. 

Fungi’s purpose seems more clear-cut than the internet to me, though their way of communicating is similar.  Regardless, it’s a network grounded in the purpose for decay and regeneration, part of a vast network, connected to all of life, capable of great good and healing potentially of all kinds of disorders and ailments.  In the film, experts suggest that if we are to survive as a species, it could be crucial to learn a lot more about fungi which have lived for billions of years.  What can we learn from fungi?  What can we learn from that which comes before us?  From communities, like fungi, like ancient Israel even, that have lived through what it means to be living together in the world in various stages of history.

The reading for the day:
Matthew 4:12-23; Is. 9:1-4

Matthew 4:12-23 (Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible . Sheed & Ward. Kindle Edition.)

12 When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he went back to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town near the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea on the far side of the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles: 16 the people who lived in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.” 17 From that time on, Jesus began proclaiming the message, “Change your hearts and minds, for the kindom of heaven is at hand!” 18 As Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he watched two brothers—Simon, who was called Peter, and Andrew—casting a net into the sea. They fished by trade. 19 Jesus said to them, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of humankind.” 20 They immediately abandoned their nets and began to follow Jesus. 21 Jesus walked along further and caught sight of a second pair of brothers—James and John, [sons of] ben-Zebedee. They too were in their boat, mending their nets with their father. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they abandoned both boat and father to follow him. 23 Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kindom of heaven and healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses among the people.


Is. 9:1-4 (Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible . Sheed & Ward. Kindle Edition.)
9 :1 “But there will be no more gloom
for the land that was in anguish!
In the past God humbled
the land of Zebulun, the land of Naphtali;††
but in the future God will bring glory
to this Road to the Sea,
this Land beyond the Jordan,
this Galilee of the Nations. 2 The people walking in darkness
are seeing a brilliant light—
upon those who dwell in a land of deep shadows
light is shining! 3 God, you have made the nation greater—
you have brought them abundant joy!
They celebrate in your presence
as with the harvest celebrations,
or as warriors celebrate when dividing spoils. 4 For the yoke that burdened them,
the weight on their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressors—
you have shattered it,
as you did at the defeat of Midian.

Grounded in their desire for peace, justice and mercy, in times of despair, pain, suffering, war, trusting in the promise of restoration toward that which is whole for everyone, especially those experiencing oppression and anguish.

It is their community which lasts, though their kings, whether cruel or kind, come and go, they, together, outlive their kinds as the people God claims as beloved children for whom peace, justice and mercy is ever on the horizon.

Fanstic Fungi, a film by Louie Schwartzberg, written by Mark Monroe
I watched a documentary at the Belcourt Theater called Fantastic Fungi.  In it numerous experts, mycologists and mushroom enthusiasts discuss this not-quite-plant, not-quite animal, the fungi, with which we share numerous qualities—we are related to fungi which survived the extinction of many species, here well before humans evolved or homo sapiens, I suppose.  I’m not mycologist, nor a fungal expert, but it is fascinating to look at how the mycelium, the sort of roots of mushrooms, this fungus which acts to break down organic, carbon-based matter, so that it is recycled and reused for life to continue, for growth to occur.  Fungi apparently communicate with trees, can break down diesel-soaked decaying matter, making way for new growth, worms, which bring birds, who bring seeds, whose plants feed animals and feed the soil as well.  Fungi are part of the end of the life cycle, decaying that which was once alive and growing.  Fungi are part of the beginning of new life cycles as well.  Fungi, all the while are simply doing what fungi do, grounded in this mission to decay and regenerate.

The documentary closes by saying that fungi do not operate in this definitively dog-eat-dog way where the survival of the fittest means domination.  Instead, fungi work together with the life cycle and with a variety of climates, contexts, etc., and these experts say that is what makes for its longevity—it’s sense of community, a thriving together in a vast network of spores and mycelium and mushrooms and such.

How can our church mirror Fungi?  What is our grounding mission?
As we go into our congregational meeting, what are we grounded in?  We are part of Nashville, part of the UCC, Open & Affirming, inclusive, Just Peace, committed to spiritual growth and the struggle for peace and social justice in our lives and society.  In times of pain, despair, suffering or joy, hope and celebration, may we be grounded as a community in our mission and may our connection to our wider context, our reaching out to connect, make way for longevity and make way for life beyond ourselves. 

Israel was grounded in the hope for peace, justice and mercy, amid military oppression, unjust rulers, exile and despair.  They anticipated festivals when they would celebrate, though that was not always their immediate reality.  Consistently, they, as a community are looking toward peace, justice and mercy, regardless of the cycle of life they are in.

Fungi are grounded in a network which reaches far beyond just the mushrooms we see pop up every now and then and this network communicates as it breaks down that which is at the end of the life cycle, making way for new growth.  Consistently, Fungi are grounded as a community in their mission to decay and regenerate.

May Brookmeade (our local church with its mission statement to follow), regardless of the cycle of life or season we are in, be grounded and consistent in our hope for an Open and Affirming, Inclusive, Just Peace, spiritually growing community working ever toward peace and social justice in our lives and society.  It is in community that our work is accomplished.  Some say things like, “this will outlast the stars in the sky,” but I say, perhaps, May the work of Brookmeade “live like fungi, connected, communicating, and consistent, in a variety of cycles of life.”

There will be new leaders and Presidents.  There is work happening in the world that is good and there is pain, despair and suffering, military oppression and exploitation.  May we remain consistent in it all.  Working in community with a shared common goal.  This will make for long life.  Community is what makes for long life.  May we be like fungi.  Go see the movie and you’ll see :)  Let’s take care of each other today and always.  We are all connected, affecting each other.  That’s the way it is.  Amen.

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