Transcribed from the audio
Please pray with me. The King of love my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. I nothing lack if I am His and He is mine forever. In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.
One of the best known and most beloved images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is unmistakable from our scriptures and our hymns that are chosen for today. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who knows each one of us by name, the one whose voice we listen for and we follow, the one who lays down his life for the sheep, you and me. The one who journeys with us, by the green pastures and still waters and through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Today also marks, as you can tell from our leaflet and our prayers, Earth Day. It’s the 48th anniversary of Earth Day and what a journey it has been. As our vicar mentioned at the outset of the service, this year is focused on plastic pollution. On this day, over a billion people in 200 countries around the world will reflect on where we are, where we’re going, and where we need to be. I think it’s safe to say that none of us would get an “A” on this report card. I think what we can hope for and pray for is that our report card would at least show a notation, “shows improvement.”
On this day, I’d like to marry those two themes because they’re not mutually exclusive. I would submit to you that the theme of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and our care for creation are inextricably interconnected. One informs and guides the other. People of faith often turn to Scripture to consider creation and our role and responsibility in that, and that is appropriate. We heard in the opening prayers for Earth Day and we know from the first chapter of Genesis, that God called all things into being, including humankind, and pronounced that it was “very good.” And then God gave humankind what’s translated as dominion over all that’s been created, all living things. It’s important to note that we were created in the image of God and the understanding is that we will steward that which God has created in the way that God would steward it.
Dominion does not mean depleting, defiling, degrading and destroying. That as stewards with God, we have a responsibility to care for and protect that great gift that all of humankind has been given: this fragile earth, our island home. It’s also important to note in Scripture that there’s a second creation account. It comes up in Chapter Two. Humankind in Chapter Two is created by God out of the very soil of the earth and God commands humankind to cultivate or till the soil. The literal Hebrew translation of the word cultivate is serve. We are to serve that which we are wholly dependent upon, our lives and our livelihood.
So I invite you to hold in tension today the whole notion of dominion and dependence, that we are stewards, coworkers with God, in serving that which God has created and called “very good.” Looking at the life of Jesus, He shows us how to live our lives, giving us guiding principles. When asked, “Jesus, what’s the most important law out of all of them,” what was his response? The double love commandment: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and spirit and love your neighbor as yourself.
Now, in looking at Jesus’ life and his ministry, he was all about inclusion, particularly those on the margins. Neighbor meant everyone. Everyone—not just your family, not just those in your particular and privileged zip code, not just those in your particular and privileged country—but everyone.
Fifty years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached his last Sunday sermon from this very pulpit. And he lifted up for us so many things that are as relevant and eternal today as they were 50 years ago. One of the points that he made was that we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools. That we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, interconnected in a mutuality, understanding that whatever affects one directly affects all of us indirectly. What we do or what we fail to do impacts the globe, and that’s part of what we look at today.
Six years ago, environmental legend and advocate, Wendell Berry was at the National Cathedral and he lifted up for us the fact that it is our moral obligation to look after this fragile earth, our island home. And I love his wonderful twist on the golden rule. You know the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Berry puts it this way: “Do unto those downstream what you would have those upstream do unto you.” We are inextricably interconnected as a global family and community, loving God with all that we are and all that we have and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
One of the greatest crises in the environmental movement today is our obsession with plastic. After the service, I invite you to go to the forum upstairs to see two short film clips that we, in partnership with Plastic Pollution Coalition, will be offering. For those of you who are worshiping with us online, you can find those online on their website.
I watched them in preparation for today and offer just a few statistics: each and every day Americans throw out 88,000 tons of plastic. We are literally choking our planet, our waterways, our oceans, our landscapes. Because the thing about plastic, it doesn’t degrade. Those plastic bags you get in the grocery stores, they’re with us for a thousand years. Scientists predict that unless we turn the tide on our obsession and dependence on single use plastic, our oceans will have more plastic by weight than fish in 2050. The earth cries out for us to take some responsibility and to act. One of the most startling statistics that I read, however, was one from 2010. Pew Research Center conducted a survey and they asked Americans, how many of you would say that religion influenced your thinking about tougher regulations and restrictions related to the environment? Only five percent said yes.
My brothers and sisters and people of faith, the church has failed us in articulating that this is a moral obligation that God bestowed upon us from the very beginning in creation. We are called to respond. People in the environmental movement like to use the 4Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse. This morning I would lift up for your consideration as a person of faith, the 3 “A”s: awareness, action, advocacy. Learn what’s going on and where the Good Shepherd and God would lead you to respond.
I know so often that in problems with this sort of enormity, we can get caught up and overwhelmed in, well, what can one person do? And the truth is, a lot. Think about it. Every modern movement that you can think of began with one person seeing a need or an opportunity and having an idea on how to address it. And then that person would recruit the second and the third person who caught the vision and signed up and joined on and made a transformative change.
One person can do that with God’s help. Let me just share with you an extraordinary story of recycling and a vision that one person had. Five years ago, my husband John and I made it a point to go hear a youth orchestra playing at the Kennedy Center on Millennium Stage. Now, this was no ordinary youth orchestra because they had a story. Journey with me to Paraguay, outside the capital city to a town called Cateura. It’s really a slum. You might call it a city, but it’s 25,000 people who live beside a landfill and try and scratch out a living from the things that they can recycle and sell from that landfill.
Each day, 3,000,000 pounds of solid waste are dumped on that landfill, compliments of the capital city and the environs. One day a man had an idea. The children did not have much to do. They were often taken by their parents to go through the landfill because their needs were so great and there weren’t many opportunities or alternatives for those kids. And he decided that in his free time he could teach them music. So he had a few borrowed instruments and began to teach these kids music.
But the problem was that they didn’t have instruments at home on which to practice. So he recruited a second person, a carpenter who cleverly went through that landfill, and amazingly enough, an oil drum became a cello. A drain pipe became a saxophone. Discarded X-ray film stretched across a can, became a drum. And out of other people’s trash, the Recycled Orchestra was born and made music, beautiful music, transformative music.
You see, one person can always make a difference with God’s help. Dr. King said so many important things 50 years ago and in his too short life. But he also said this 50 years ago in this pulpit, “That human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It is the tireless determined work of individuals who partner as coworkers with God.” And with that my friends, we can make a lasting difference in this planet that we call Earth upon which we have dominion and dependence. We can do it with God’s help.
Loving God, with all that we are and all that we have, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, we do this not because it’s easy, but because it’s right, not because we can, but because we must. The earth is ours to steward. The Good Shepherd shows us the way. Listen for his voice and follow him. Amen.