In 1995 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, having been absent from the park for seventy years. In the 1800’s Yellowstone park rangers took it upon themselves to eradicate predatory animals like wolves, bears, and coyotes in order to sustain the viability of livestock animals for food. A hundred years later people began to have an awareness of how one species of life can impact an entire ecosystem. This led to fourteen wolves being reintroduced to the park in 1995 and another 25 within the next year.
As soon as wolves arrived there was a radical change in the behavior of deer. The deer began avoiding certain areas of the park. They left valleys and gorges and moved to higher elevations. When the deer moved, the height of trees increased. Other trees returned like aspen and willows. With the return of trees, more birds returned, and beavers returned. Beavers are ecosystem engineers because they create habitats for other animals like ducks and fish. The wolves killed coyotes, which in turn brought back rabbits and mice. The return of rabbits and mice enabled grasses to grow because their dens and holes provide a natural aeration that supports the growth of wild grass. The return of rabbits and mice and other small animals also brought back hawks and eagles. Bears increased too because there were more bushes and trees and therefore more berries. The presence of wolves changed the behavior of the rivers. With increased tress and grasses there was less erosion of soil, channels narrowed, more pools formed. The regenerating forests stabilized the banks, therefore they collapsed less often and the rivers became more fixed in their course. Less soil erosion restored the water ways. Some say it is amazing how, in a mere nineteen years a few wolves changed the ecosystem of Yellowstone.
We’ve come to the last Sunday after the Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday. A Gospel reading on the transfiguration of Jesus appears in Mark, Luke, or Matthew, which means the transfiguration is a powerful story from the ancient world. This year we also have the reading from Exodus on the transfiguration of Moses as he encounters God on the mountain top.
Moses ascends to the mountain top because God has called him there. On the mountain Moses is given the Ten Commandments. These commandments, and the 603 additional commandments that come from them, sometimes referred to as the laws of Moses spell out how people are to be in relationship with God, self, and others. Moses was called to the mountain, not so he could be changed, but so that he could become an agent of change for the Hebrew people. Moses teaches the people how to live in relationship with God, with other people, and even with one’s self.
In a similar way God calls Jesus to the mountain top. Jesus takes with him three disciples. While on the mountain Moses and Elijah appear and Jesus is transfigured. Again, the transfiguration of Jesus was not for Jesus, but for the disciples. The disciples now know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law of Moses, and that in and through Jesus they will come to know how to live in right relationship with God, with others, and with themselves.
When Moses encountered God, God was hidden in a cloud. When Jesus is transfigured God is visible for all to see. God manifests God’s self in human flesh. This means that we know God in and through our relationships with other people.
Over the last three days members of this parish, including the Vestry, Mitch and me, have participated in the initial conversations about our revitalization process. We met with Diocesan staff who shared with us concepts about sustainable budgets. We had a Vestry retreat to help orient our new Vestry members to the work of the Vestry as it guides this parish in living out our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit. And we participated in a diocesan wide Diversity and Inclusion workshop, looking at how we can truly be a community that respects the dignity of every human being. In all of this we are taking a deep look at how we are revealing God in and through our lives, at how we are loving God, loving ourselves and loving our neighbors.
What has transpired when the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone is a phenomenon known as “trophic cascade.” Trophic cascades are powerful indirect interactions that can control entire ecosystems. Trophic cascades occur when one species impacts the density and/or behavior of another species causing a cascade effect all along the chain of the ecosystem.
Likewise, I am confident that we stand on the precipice of a mountain top, at a point where what we do this year and next year will make all the difference for the years to come, possibly setting the template for the next 150 years. A number of factors contribute to my confidence, including the fact that west Dearborn, thanks again to the Ford Motor Company is on the brink of a substantial change, of an influx of business and development, and people.
Now is not the time to be like the Peter, where we try to build ways to remain isolated within on our own little mountain. Now is the time to think expansively and take risks to build relationships outside our own walls, to go out into the world and connect with this revitalization project, to invite members of Ford Motor Co and its redevelopment to come and speak to us, to help us learn how we can be part of this project, to work with the city and see what we can do to be part of it, to put Christ Church in the center of building relationships, right in the midst of this transfiguration that is going to take place in Dearborn. Now is the time for us to ponder what is it that we will do that will be like the wolf pack in Yellowstone, to create our tropic cascade, our something that completely alters the environment of this church, this community, now and for the future.
A reflection on the readings for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Transfiguration: Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9