Woody Guthrie, the American singer of folk and protest songs, was born a hundred years ago today in Oklahoma. He was a huge influence on later singers like Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, and his best known song was “This land is your land”.
This land is your land, this land is my land,
From California to the New York island,
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
That has an almost biblical ring to it: all land is God’s and God gives the land to us. In the holy land in biblical times there was no such thing as private property. But God’s gift of land was not unconditional: it’s not ours to do with what we like. We can use it selfishly and exploit it; or we can use it generously and share it.
Part of the land in ancient Israel was entrusted to the tribe; and the tribe in turn entrusted a portion of its land to families. And the families managed the land on behalf of their tribe.
I like the story of the golfers who turned up at a famous course on a Sunday, wanting to play. They found the course closed and were told that Sunday was a day of rest. “But we want to play golf,” they said; “We don’t need to rest.” “No,” came the reply from the greenkeeper, “but the course needs a rest”.
And that’s biblical too. One day a week the land was to be given a rest, and every seven years it was to lie fallow and be given an extended rest.
God’s people were told not only that the land was theirs so long as they respected it, but that the land was theirs to share with strangers, who were as much children of God as were those who thought of themselves as God’s chosen people.
Loving God, help us all to understand that we are stewards of your bounty, held in solemn trust for you. Amen.