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Earth Day & The Good Shepherd

The Rev. Sara Warfield

Scriptures: Psalm 23 & John 10:11-18

Tomorrow is Earth Day, and this week is both a celebration of all the Earth provides for our living and thriving, and a call to action to protect its environment and all of the life within it. As we contend with the effects of climate change that can seem anywhere from unnerving to downright apocalyptic, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that today’s readings are about the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the flock in order to take it up again, who guides his sheep through the valley of the shadow of death.

But as I was praying and reflecting on these Good Shepherd scriptures for today, my mind kept returning to a different passage, an earlier chapter of the gospel of John, the first chapter.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

John is claiming that the Word, who we as Christians know is Jesus, was God’s creative force in shaping this world. This hearkens back to Genesis 1:

Then God said, ‘Let there be light’

And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image

God said. It was God’s words that made everything come into being. Or, according to John, God’s Word, Jesus. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

So, according to John, all this creation is infused with the Word, with Jesus, with the Good Shepherd.

I think about how I feel standing under a thick canopy of green in the forest, the wet scent of dark dirt and moss filling me. I think about the lullaby of ocean waves, a huge sound, yet calming, steady. I think about the endless sky in Wyoming held by an endless expanse of grass and sagebrush, and I feel my own, sweet endlessness. There’s nothing to fear so long as this Earth is holding me. Jesus, the creative Word, shepherding me, assuring me that so long as God’s creation thrives, I will thrive.

It’s no wonder that standing in the vastness of nature, of God’s created world, brings me such peace.

In my younger, more brash days, I’d get really worked up on Earth Day. “It shouldn’t be called Earth Day,” I’d say in some scathing Facebook post. “It should be called Save Ourselves Day.” Because, I argued, the Earth is going to be fine no matter what. If the ice caps melt and the coasts drown, changing our weather systems and, ironically, causing a shortage of water which would cause a shortage of food—because you can’t grow food without water—it would most likely cause war, because whenever resources are scarce, that’s what we humans do.

Now I hope I’m a little more tactful, a little more loving in my approach. But my original point still stands: If the worst case scenario happens, we humans might go extinct along with thousands and thousands of other species, but the Earth would adjust. Eventually new life would spring up. New climate patterns, new habitats. The beauty of God’s creation is that it adapts and adapts and adapts.

This Earth will continue to shepherd life, just maybe not our life.

It has me thinking, yet again, about something Jesus says in Matthew: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

At the end of the day, or at the end of an eon, we humans are the least of these. Not the masters of the universe with our grand technology, not the tamer of nature or the rulers of beasts. Right now, in a lot of ways when it comes to our climate, we are the lost sheep. We are the sheep needing to be found, needing protection.

Which brings me to yet another sheep parable in yet another gospel: “‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”

Now I know that most of us trust this, innately, when it comes to our individual lives. When we are lost, we trust that Jesus finds us. We trust that God will lead us through.

During Bible Study, there were more than a few teary eyes when we read Psalm 23.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for you are with me, your rod and your staff are my comfort.

We know that we matter to God, our shepherd. In the most difficult moments, the most devastating moments, the most despairing moments. That faith inside us knows that our individual life, seemingly insignificant amongst the more than 8 billion on this planet, matters to God.

That is the lesson here: if we know the smallest thing matters to God, the one lost sheep out of 99 matters to Jesus, we know the smallest thing should matter to us.

There’s this seeming fact that has gone around that 100 corporations create 71% of the global emissions that cause climate change. I’ve bandied it about a few times myself. I did a little research on this, though, and the truth is a lot more nuanced.

But the main thing is, even if corporations are responsible for the majority of all global emissions, they wouldn’t be polluting if there wasn’t incentive to. The fact is that people, all of us, consume—gas in our cars, single use plastic from straws to soda bottles to the packaging in our Amazon boxes, and even in how we use our phones and computers. Did you know that what we call the Cloud makes the majority of our internet use possible? Everything from Facebook to streaming shows and movies to playing Words with Friends.

According to the MIT Anthropologist Steven Gonzalez Monserrate, “the Cloud now has a greater carbon footprint than the airline industry. A single data center can consume the equivalent electricity of 50,000 homes.”

I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad. I drive a car that requires gas, I buy things off Amazon, and I definitely use the internet. A lot. What I am trying to say is: Our smallest habits matter. How and what we consume matters. What we demand of corporations and elected leaders matters.

Now this is all complicated. If you’re barely scraping by to pay rent and feed your family, you’re probably not spending a few extra dollars on bamboo toilet paper in bamboo paper packaging. You’re probably not paying more for sustainably raised eggs or paying attention to the amount of plastic that wraps your kids snacks.

That’s totally fair.

But all of us can vote—for candidates for whom climate change is a top priority, for measures that incentivize businesses and people to change their behavior.

And many of us do have the resources to consume differently, to give to organizations fighting climate change. Many of us do have the time to figure out where we can make a difference in our local community.

Whatever we can do matters. That’s what Jesus, our Good Shepherd, teaches us: every little lost sheep matters. Every little action matters.

I know that the more common approach to all of this Earth Day stuff is that we are the shepherds of the environment—of trees and birds and water. Of course we are in so many ways. Humans’ unique ability to impact the environment in such profound ways comes also with profound responsibility.

But I think it’s also helpful to remember how vulnerable we are.

I am the Earth

And the Earth is me.

Each blade of grass,

Each honey tree,

Each bit of mud,

And stick and stone

Is blood and muscle,

Skin and bone.

When I hear this poem, I think of Jesus and how John describes how all things came into being through him. And then later in that same gospel, Jesus proclaims, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

Which means we can look out on the blossoms on the trees right now, we can watch sparrows skitter across the sky and know that they are infused with Jesus. And it means that when we have two weeks straight of 100 degree weather in July when up until recently no one even needed an air conditioner in this area, when all our lawns have turned brown by August, we can hear our Good Shepherd calling out to us, looking for his lost sheep.

When we see ourselves as vulnerable, as the least of these, it’s easier to recognize when we are off the path. It’s easier to admit when we’re lost. It’s easier to cry out for help, for guidance. To call for our good shepherd.

And our good shepherd will find us and bring us home. Amen.

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