Easter 4, Year B: John 10:11-18, 1 John 3:16-24
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (I John 3:16-18)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:11-16)
It’s always a wonderful thing to land on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, (actually every Sunday in Easter is a wonderful thing) but on the Fourth Sunday we always hear in some form about the Good Shepherd. And this is one of our more comforting images of God and of Christ. The Shepherd cares for the sheep, lays down his life for the sheep, and ultimately through His intentions and actions, gathers us all together as one.
It’s also nice that this year, Fourth Easter is also Earth Day which we’re acknowledging with educational opportunities and a special blessing of the Grace grounds in procession at the end of this service. And the connection to the readings and the presence of the Good Shepherd to this other celebration is not a hard one. So many of the images in Scripture that bring us comfort, that speak to us of God’s care and love, use images of Creation to get that message across.
In today’s psalm, we heard of green pastures and still waters and Creation was referred to as the “house of the Lord”. Other psalms speak about the moon and the stars, the birds of the air, the sheep, oxen, and wild beasts of the field. They proclaim that the heavens “declare the glory of God and that “the firmament shows his handiwork.” Psalm 139, in its celebrating “how wonderfully” human beings are made, puts us in deep relationship, with the earth: “I was woven in the depths of the earth,” the psalmist wrote, who then also uses images of Creation to give human beings perspective on the holy: “How deep I find your thoughts O God…if I were to count them they would be more in number than the sand.” In the Book of Job, the longest speech given by God in all of Scripture is one soaked through with Creation, “Where were you?” God asks Job, “When I made the foundation of the earth?” And then God spoke to Job of rain, and deer, and mountains, of lotus trees, willows, cedars, ostriches, horses, mighty rivers and hawks. And when that holy whirlwind that God filled with the wonders of Creation quieted down, Job knew his place, his role. Even given his personal hardships of which there were many, Job was made aware again of the grace of it all.
Which is I think part of the point of Earth Day in our context of being church. From the very beginning the story that is Scripture, our story is woven together with the story of Creation. There is no separating it and us.
And in that relationship there is beauty, there is mystery, and there is grace. God “saw that it was good.” All of it. On every day (or every gazillion years depending on which math you use,) God saw that it was good. From the waters, to the land, to the animals, fish, birds and people. God saw that it was good. And in that whole big picture, in this holy, salvific story which we share with streams, and mountains, and trees – we were named as stewards. Not masters, but caretakers. And we were given power to use for good. The earth itself is home, gift, and responsibility.
“The earth is what we all have in common,” poet and theologian Wendell Barry wrote. If we are looking for that which unites us (and we are always looking for that which unites us)…If we are looking for that which sustains us all and cries out to us to sustain back, it is “this fragile earth, our island home,” as one of our Eucharistic prayers says so beautifully. And so, when we pray not only our thanksgivings, but also when we pray our confession, our relationship with the earth is present among “those things we have done and those things we have left undone.”
And then it is our work to be the stewards we have been called to be. The Good Shepherd would never leave the sheep in the hands of the wolf, we heard today. Good stewards too are called to protect that which has been given into our care, to shield from that which causes destruction and destroys. Which means that we, the large collective we, and the individual we’s, need to fight and work for change. And we need to change ourselves; it is our ways, or many of them causing much of the damage being done to this fragile Earth our island home. “Little children,” we heard in 1st John this morning, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and in action.” It’s time.
And there is so very much that we can do. Warning bells have sounded, flags have been raised for decades now with regard to environmental concern and care. But there is still much that we can do. And this like other ministries of the church is work of reconciliation and it is work of repair. We are not in right relationship with this Creation of which we are part. And so we make it part of “the work we have been given to do” to change that.
Parishioners will speak to us as we process today about actions they have taken and they’ll invite us to take them too. Brian Bodenbender, Professor of Geology and Environmental Care at Hope College, spoke at Forum Hour this morning. The team of Creation Care is hard at work here at Grace, but this work is for all of us in our church, in our homes, in our lives. You’ll hear more and more moving forward through the voice of Grace about local and church wide initiatives that have to do with Christians claiming our place and our role, among the trees, under the stars, and for the earth. Loving in speech and in truth and in action too.
“There will be one flock, one shepherd,” we heard today. That unity is our vision. It is our hope and it is the promise given us by the One who cares for us all. “The earth is what we all have in common,” Barry said. It’s a good place to start and according to the psalm, not a bad place to end either. May we tend the green pastures, care for the still waters, and lay down our own lives for this earth. May our actions proclaim the love the Creator intends for all.