April 22, 2018, Earth Day
These are the sounds that you would hear out in the field if you were watching over the flocks. The bleating of sheep. Possibly the sound of bells. The birds chirping. All the sounds of a glorious creation that has been given to us by a loving God. A creation that we have been entrusted, and a creation that is vulnerable to the demise of our own greed.
Today is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day! While, as humanity we have been entrusted to care for the creation since the beginning, we have not always done the best job. We have taken from the earth with reckless abandon and have in just the past century began to realize the affect it has had on our environment. The call to care for creation first came to us in Genesis.
Today has also been known throughout the church as Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear in the Gospel, Jesus’ promise that he knows each one of us and has laid down his life for us. This promise flows over to creation. Martin Luther once wrote that, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” We are surrounded by the living Gospel. The good news that surrounds our lives.
The discourse that we enter this morning is a continuation of Jesus’ response to why he healed the man that was born blind. The Pharisee’s were questioning Jesus on why he chose to heal the man on a sabbath day. We do not get to hear the entire dialogue but come in from the point where Jesus says he is the good shepherd.
The sheep are not always left in the care of such a loving shepherd. As Jesus points out, the hired hand could care less what happened to the sheep. He cares more about his own safety and ensuring that he is protected from harm then he is about the wolves that may come to harm the sheep. The hired hand does not have a vested interest in the well-being of the sheep. Other than perhaps a paycheck! The hired hand does not love and have compassion as the good shepherd does.
When it comes to the care of creation, too many of us are apathetic. We simply do, without thinking about the consequences of our actions. We are no better than the hired hand that Jesus speaks of in the gospel lesson. When we take little to no vested interest in our communities and the care of them and the ecological resources, we are far from being a shepherd. This is part of the statement that Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, released for Earth Day:
As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), we share a deep love for all of God’s creation and a profound responsibility for it. Made in the image of God, we are called to continue what God is already doing for the earth (Psalm 104), enabling it to flourish. God assigns humans to care for the earth as God does, in loving servanthood. (Philippians 2:7, Genesis 2:15).
Daily we witness the evidence of a rapidly changing climate. At the same time, we also witness in too many instances how the earth’s natural beauty, a sign of God’s wonderful creativity, is defiled by pollutants and waste, resulting in ecological crisis. As a member church of The Lutheran World Federation, we affirm “that the global ecological crisis, including climate change is, human-induced. This is a spiritual matter. As people of faith, we are called to live in right relationship with creation and to not exhaust it.”[i]
We find an overwhelming grace in Jesus as the good shepherd. Jesus has taken on death like no one before him. In his willingness to lay down his life for all of humanity, we encounter a grace that the world had yet to experience. In the image of Jesus as good shepherd, the Pharisees are offended because they come to realize that they are the hired hands in the story.
Jesus as the good shepherd is an image that we are all very familiar and one that speaks a message of welcome. It is as a good shepherd that Jesus welcomes all into his flock as his body and blood are given to us at the Lord’s Table. In this simple, yet complex act, we become one with the body of Christ and are encouraged to become shepherds ourselves.
It is a good thing that Jesus only called himself the good shepherd. Imagine if he would have called himself the “awesome” shepherd, or the “extraordinary” shepherd. These would have been big shoes to fill and ones that we would have been overwhelmed to even think of stepping in to. However, good is an adjective that seems doable. We can be good! We can step up and learn to care for others the way that Jesus did. We may not always get it right, but to be good is much easier than to be “extraordinary!”
How about we start to see if we can be a good shepherd when it comes to caring for the creation that has been entrusted to us since Genesis. Heather Bennet, Executive Director of Blessed Earth Tennessee, wrote a piece for Rethink Church on caring for our environment and points out the six “R’s” of living sustainably. Perhaps you have heard of some of them.
- First, REFUSE. If you don’t need it don’t buy it. If you don’t need it don’t take it. This includes food.
- Second, if you can’t REFUSE then REDUCE. Reduce the amount you need.
- Third, if you can’t REFUSE or REDUCE then REUSE.
- Fourth, if you can’t REFUSE, REDUCE, or REUSE then RECYCLE. Recycling is probably the most popular, but recycling is energy intensive. Think about the transportation, energy and water involved in the process.
- Fifth, if you can’t REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE or RECYCLE then ROT. That’s just an R word for compost.
- Sixth is pretty special: REST. This one is not dependent upon the others. Every week practice REST. When we rest, we’re not driving or engaging in commerce. We’re probably going to enjoy some time outside. For Christians, this day would include spending time in God’s word and in God’s creation.[ii]
When we begin to think about how our actions affect creation, we start to embody the image of a good shepherd. It is something that is very doable.
Jesus comes and reveals himself to the disciples and us as the good shepherd. A shepherd that is willing to lay everything down for the life of just one of his sheep’s. Let’s not just simply follow as a sheep. May we be so bold to be a shepherd for others that are lost and lead them to the way of not only caring for creation, but in the truth of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Bishop Eaton concludes her statement:
In grateful response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ, this church carries out its responsibility for the well-being of society and the environment. Our “concern for the environment is shaped by the Word of God spoken in creation, the Love of God hanging on a cross, the Breath of God daily renewing the face of the earth.” Our concern is, then, propelled by hope and guided by principles of justice. We find our hope in the promise of God’s own faithfulness to everything God has made. We seek justice for all of creation in concert with God’s creative and renewing power. We do so understanding that we have the ability and responsibility to act together for the common good, especially for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Let us pray. … Christ, the good shepherd, may we find hope in your relentless ways to bring in all of humanity to your flock. We give thanks for being called to be your hands and feet in spreading that good news for all to hear. May we spread the good news through our actions in caring for creation and in our love that we model from your love of us. Amen.