(Psalm 23; John 10:11-18) – J G White
Sunday, Earth Day, April 22, 2018 – UBC Digby
Rev. Laura McCue introduced us to a wonderful movie this year. All Saints. A true story of a little Episcopal Church in Tennessee; I would like to show it to you sometime. A new priest is sent to the church. His work: to care for the handful of people, and to sell off their building and everything in it.
But, one of the surprises that comes along is this: the dying Anglican congregation takes their lovely few acres of land and plants a farm. The shadow of death that hangs over the church seems to become a green pasture. That’s just part of the story. When that little church’s crop was ready to be harvested, a torrential rain came, the creek rose, and the people panicked. Their farm was going to be ruined!
I won’t tell you the whole story; no ‘spoiler alert’ needed. You’ll just have to see the film.
Today is Earth Day. I have two questions today. The first is this: Is the universe friendly? Is creation basically good to us, or bad to us? Green pasture or valley of the shadow of death?
We do live in a deadly world. Shelley Maas remarked last week: five people from the area she knew died on April 14th! Five on the same day. And the illnesses and injuries we hear about among those we know sometimes seem to pile up far too much.
And “man’s inhumanity to man” is still with us. People harming and killing other people. On Thursday I attended the amazing one-man show called “Solitary Refinement.” It is the story of a man imprisoned and tortured for fourteen years, in the mid twentieth century, in Russia. The audience was reminded that the story of the persecuted church continues in our day and age, in many parts of the world. I recently heard Father Vincent tell of the terrible violence and oppression against Christians in his home nation of Nigeria, in Africa.
Of course, every race and faith group suffers. In places like the Middle East violence continues. Digby resident Shekrallah K_____ had one of his nephews killed last week in their hometown, in Syria.
Humans have sometimes thought themselves the pinnacle of creation, the crowning glory of what God has made. But we know how terrible and dangerous we are.
Is creation – us included – friendly or not? It is a mixed bag, a variety, a dangerous / beautiful place. Thank God we learn to sing, from deep inside:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way;
When sorrows, like sea-billows, roll…
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
There is good and ill for us all in all things. So we look for guidance. A way through this life. A Good Shepherd. For thousands of years now people have sung, to hundreds of different tunes: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
Our faith and experience confirm what we read in Psalm 23 and John 10: we have a Good Shepherd for the green pastures and for the ‘shadow of death’ valleys.
It is a faith statement to declare: the Universe is good. It is beautiful. It is for us, not against us. Our knowledge of God as Creator and Shepherd gives us hope when all seems lost. Gives us purpose when we are blind to why things happen. Gives us connection to everything when we seem torn apart.
Time for the second question today, Earth Day. After ‘is the universe friendly?’ we ask ourselves: Are we friendly to the universe? Are we mainly good in creation, or bad for it?
What do you say? Is the planet better for having people on it, or not? And why? Say more…
In the role of preacher I could speak from Psalm 23 of the soul-restoring qualities of nature. Of the right paths of care for creation. Of the valley of the shadow we have created by our pollution and destruction and extinction of life. Of this creation that does provide everything we need. This could be my sermon.
But Psalm 23 is not actually concerned with the environment, with creation. It is concerned with people and God. We cannot impose environmental- ism on the Bible. But the setting of Psalm 23 is our familiar natural world: the hills and fertile valleys, the sheep and the humans who shepherd them, and the deadly wild places.
Our experience in the world is real and true: our breathing, our feasting, our enjoyment of beauty and our amazement at what is awesome. And the Good Shepherd who guides our human lives, our spirits, is the Lover of all creation.
As a faith family what do we do? We are believers in a Creator; how do we as a church live within creation?
Find ways to use less oil and electricity.
Find ways to use up less paper.
Find ways to use up less plastic.
Share a building with other churches.
Educate and inspire people about earth care.
Get active in community clean-ups and so forth.
Speak up in our province about the important issues – be prophets, whether we are listened to or not.
There are new ways we have learned through the years. We take better care and walk lightly upon the earth. What is different now from when you were a kid? How do we live now as better stewards of earth?
If a congregation were to take creation seriously, we would set a new goal each year – perhaps on every Earth Day, April 22nd – and act on it. Take a good step, change our habits and ways of doing things: every year make progress. Just as you and I can do in our own lives.
What could our next step be?
Share some ideas…
We people can be a good thing for Earth; make green pastures instead of creating valleys of death. Do you hear the Shepherd calling us in that direction?
In the name of God: Creator who keeps creating, the Firstborn of all Creation, and the Spirit brooding over the chaos. Amen.