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Green Pastures and Still Waters

  • May 12, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 12 May 2019 (Pascha 4, Good Shepherd, Year C)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:    Revelation 11:15-19 (revised); Psalm 23; John 10.22-30

Title:     Green Pastures and Still Waters

“We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.

The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and [the time] for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:17-18).

My friends, this is Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year, on the fourth Sunday of the Great Fifty Days, the Church throughout the West remembers the promise that Christ is our Good Shepherd who cares for us, who guides us, and who leads us into that goodness and mercy which is life eternal.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” Surely, this is one of the most well-known promises in all of the Bible, familiar and loved all across the face of the earth.

But, let us step back now for a moment and ask this basic question: How does this provision take place? How does our Good Shepherd care for us and provide these good things for us?

First and foremost, it must be understood that Christ cares for us and provides for us in the abundance of this earth.

We keep looking and looking into the sky, and we have now found many thousands of other planets that may be similar to earth, but – so far – nothing even comes close to the biological richness of this planet.

Lest we forget, our lives – each of our lives and every moment of our lives – depends entirely on the health and well-being of this planet.

But let’s be even more specific. Not the planet as a whole, but just this tiny little sliver of water and atmosphere that are held in place around the surface of this planet by the gravitational pull of its iron core.

This narrow little space where we humans can survive is just the top one one-thousandth percent of the earth’s mass.

To put this in perspective, imagine one thousand slices of bread stacked on top of each other, and the on the very top of this stack which is about 40 feet tall – that’s where we live. We are like ants crawling on that top slice of bread.

This earth is our home, but it is only that one thin slice on top of 1000 others. THIS thin and fragile biosphere is the ONLY place in the universe where humans can live! Without this biosphere, there is no humanity.

So consider: what are those green pastures and those still waters where the Good Shepherd leads us?

Certainly, this is a metaphor which points to more than just fields of grass and placid ponds. But it starts right there. It has to!

For no one can love God and love their neighbor and follow the Good Shepherd without clean air to breath, clean water to drink, healthy food to eat. Without these things, there is no life, and there can be no eternal life.

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released their Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity. This was the first objective assessment of the health of our entire biosphere since 2005. Over 400 scientists from over 50 different nations contributed to the report.

I certainly hope that you have heard about these findings, because they are shocking and frightening.

  • Plastic pollution in the oceans has increased tenfold since 1980.
  • One million species right now face extinction due to human behavior.
  • Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to rise at unprecedented levels.
  • Rapid warming of our biosphere is leading to changes in the cycles of life which may soon become unmanageable and may lead to disruptions in human civilization unlike anything ever before experienced.

Now, to be sure, there is disagreement about the best ways to address this crisis, and good people can disagree about what we need to do.

But let’s be clear, if WE, the sheep of the Good Shepherd – if WE, the ones who pray every day for God’s Kingdom to come on this earth just as it is in heaven – if WE do not care about the health and well-being of this biosphere, then WE are spitting in the face of God and our claim to faith is a flat-out lie!

On the island of Patmos, John was given a vision, and that vision revealed that God intended to hold accountable those who destroy the earth. Listen to it once more:

The elders worshiped God, singing

“We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.

The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

This earth is not ours to destroy. It belongs to God, and we do not have the right to steal and kill and destroy the abundance of this world so that our own lives can be easier and more comfortable.

This thin and fragile biosphere is the most remarkable treasure in the vast universe – there is nothing else like it! And we destroying it at our own peril.

But, thanks be to God, it is not all doom and gloom. There is always hope, because God is in charge of this world.

Wednesday of last week was the feast of Lady Julian of Norwich. She is well-known today for the way she spoke of God as Mother. In fact, she often spoke of the Good Shepherd as “our heavenly Mother Jesus”.

Her spiritual writings are also remarkable for their incredibly hopeful perspective. In fact, one of her visions was of this earth as a small hazelnut held tenderly in the palm of God’s hand and she heard God say,

“All will be well, and all manner of things will be well, and you will see it yourself, that every kind of thing will be well.”

Now, in case you are inclined to just write her off as sheltered and naïve, let me set the story straight! When Lady Julian was a young child, the Great Plague was carried into England, and during the course of her lifetime, between 30 and 50 percent of the entire English population died horrible deaths from the Plague.

She saw how painful life can be. In her writings, she herself asked, “Ah good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?” (Chapter 29).

This is the great question of faith. There is so much death and destruction all around, how can we accept the declaration that all will be well?

Because this is the work of God, this is the redeeming work of grace.

Listen to what she saw: “Truly it belongs to our nature to hate sin…for nature is all good and fair in itself, and grace was sent out to save nature and [to] destroy sin, and [to] bring fair nature back again to the blessed place from which it came, which is God” (Showings, Long Text, Ch. 63).

As we humans are cleansed from the selfish greed of sin, then fair nature will be blessed once again.

Finally, Christ spoke to Lady Julian in words of comfort and hope and he said, “I MAY make all things well, and I CAN make all things well, and I SHALL make all things well, and I WILL make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well” (Chapter 31).

It was on Mother’s Day in 1990 when I first stood in a pulpit and preached to a congregation. I spoke about evangelism and how important it is for us to share with those around us the Good News of what God has done in Christ.

And just two weeks before that, I organized the first-ever Earth Day Festival for my high school, and our local member of Congress accepted my invitation to attend and speak to our random group of students and teachers. (And he was a Republican – Rep. James Saxton, I’ll have you know!)

You see, even at that time, it was clear that these two things were closely related.

The Good News begins with our gratitude that GOD has made a home for us on this planet, and GOD has given us everything that we need to live a full and abundant life – both here and beyond death.

And, God’s desire for all people is health and salvation. So we had better not mess it up!

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” How does the Good Shepherd provide for us, and care for us? It begins with this tiny, fragile, remarkable thin layer of life known as the biosphere.

My friends, if we are to love God and to love our neighbor, we must love this earth.

Of all people, WE who follow Christ ought to be most concerned for the health of this planet. Of all people, WE who follow the Good Shepherd ought to be those who are most willing to sacrifice so that others may live.

So are you ready to show the world that we mean business? That we know whose world this is, and that we are answering the call to join in the work of God to redeem the life of this world? May it be so. Amen.

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