1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
On this Fourth Sunday in the season of Easter we are given the opportunity to reflect on our scripture that calls us to love and to action. We are given in our Psalm, the image of God leading us to clean water and green pastures for our health and restoration. From the first letter of John we hear that we are to follow Jesus by not just talking about love, but living it in our lives. And in the Gospel reading we hear the very familiar passage about Jesus as the good shepherd—the one who is willing to give all so that we may have life and have it abundantly.
Today is also Earth Day. A day set aside to remind us that we are of the earth and the earth is of us. We are children of the Earth, fashioned from the Earth by the creative invitation of God. And as Earthlings we encounter in Earth the continuing eternal expression of Emmanuel, God with us.
When I was growing up, I took the Earth for granted. It was just the backdrop for me and mine. The trees were something my friends and I used to climb up and tie swings to. The air was either cold or hot so we adjusted our clothing accordingly and fashionably. And the water, I completely took for granted, though it gave me life both physically and spiritually every time I encountered it.
But now I know that I am not separate from or above nature. I along with all of us are a part of it and deeply embedded in it. We are dependent on each other for survival. Life abundant is not possible if one part of us is unhealthy or clinging to life by a perilous thread.
Writing in Laudato Si,Pope Francis writes that everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of the global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.” As Christians, we follow an embodied God. God assumed earthliness through incarnation. If we affirm that God was present in Jesus, then we must also affirm that God has entered into all Creation.
Basic ecology teaches us that carbon, water, soil, nitrogen are all intertwined. The systems that support life on this planet are a house of cards and when we neglect or misuse or cause to fall to harm just one piece, the whole thing can come tumbling down. So how we care for our earth is not a fringe issue—it is not an environmental issue—it is an everything issue.
The bad news is that our overconsumption, waste, and reliance on ancient fuels are leading to catastrophic results for our planet home. There is no question that humans are responsible for the heat trapping gases in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels which have existed deep in the earth for millions of years, when dug up and burned, are very distinctive. And they are causing our earth and our ocean temperatures to rise at alarming speed. Scientist tell us that we are so far outside the range of natural variability in the levels of carbon in the atmosphere, that we have not seen these levels in the history of human civilization on this planet. We are doing an experiment on the planet that has not happened in 40 million years.
And the results of this global warming are not just down the road. They are here now. The devastating storms we have witnessed over the past 5 years are damaging the lives of people and other living creatures around the world. Because of the heat being trapped in our system, weather is now supersized and we can expect more intense and ferocious weather events with greater frequency in the future. With the rising of the sea water due to glacial melting at the poles, places like the Marshall Islands and Norfolk, Virginia are experiencing regular flooding with each high tide. We are living in a time of crucifixion for many people.
But we are also living in a resurrection world. The good news is that we understand what is happening and technology is developing remarkable responses to the challenge. Climate models using simple physics calculations can help us predict our climate systems and show how each part of the earth will change.
Renewable energy is progressing at a much faster rate than was believed financially possible a few years ago. According to Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts, the technology already exists to provide the state with 100% of its power needs through renewable sources.Wind and solar technicians are some of the fastest growing job opportunities in the country. Solar energy is appearing everywhere—on roof tops, near homes and businesses, on large swaths of acreage. Scientists are currently working on a class of solar material that can be used in liquid form. Once it is developed it can literally be painted on to the sides of buildings, on roads, and other materials to capture the sun’s energy without releasing harmful carbon into our atmosphere. 
Farmers are joining in to recognize the impact of agriculture on protecting our precious earth. When soil is tilled or turned over before planting, carbon is dug up and released at high rates into the atmosphere. Farmers are finding that if you leave the harvest residue in place it acts as a protective blanket on top of the soil. This helps create healthier soil that requires less need for fertilizer, while it promotes the absorption of more carbon. This practice, along with others, could remove more carbon that all that emitted by cars in the United. States.
A recent documentary by Sir Richard Attenborough, Blue Planet II, portrays how through our overuse of plastic material, we are turning our oceans into dump sites with horrible outcomes for sea birds, mammals, turtles, and fish which swallow it as food or become hopelessly entangled in the refuse. In response, the United Kingdom has pledged to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and will provide new funding in plastics innovation to rethink the way we make, use, and reuse plastic to prevent them from becoming waste in the first place.
Scientific knowledge and technological advances are developing our ability to deal with the harm done by our centuries of abuse and neglect of our earth. The biggest unknown is how we will choose to react. Too many persons with power and resources are not engaged in the climate change issue. And it has become trapped in political dysfunction.
But as Christians, our scripture tells us that we follow an embodied God who gave all so that we might live life abundant. And in response to this love we are to love in truth and in action. The first letter of John asks the question, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s good and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” In other words, how can a follower of the risen Christ know that our Earth is in trouble, that much of Creation is in danger, and that we have the ability to change course, and refuse to do so? How can we as followers of the risen Christ who was willing to lay down his life for us, refuse our responsibility in doing our part so that all Creation—including our own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can enjoy the beauty and healing that is present in God’s Creation?
While the statistics and fearsome weather might drive some of us to pay attention and act, I believe that our greatest motivation to protect our planet should come from the place that Jesus touches directly when he refers to himself as the “good shepherd” in John’s Gospel. The shepherd lives so that his sheep—those that he cares for—are safe and well. He tells us that he is willing to lay down his life. The good shepherd does not stand over the sheep with disregard or utility, rather this is an intimate picture. The good shepherd sees each one in their God given belovedness. The good shepherd makes it possible for the flock to grow because each sheep is protected and cared for in a way that allows them to live their best life. And in the story, we hear that Jesus cares not only for these sheep that are close by, but others “who do not belong to this fold.” They too will be shepherded –cared for, seen as worthy of life abundant.
What I believe will be our best motivation to act to change the destructive course of global warming and pollution is love. We who seek to follow the risen Christ, “know love by this, that he laid down his life for us.”
And our response must be Love—love for each other, love for the Earth given as a gift from God, love for God whose mercies never end. We were made for love in communion with God and with each other and with God’s Creation. We can put our trust in God who working through us can heal and reconcile and save.
As Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says, our relationship with Mother Earth is a reciprocal, dynamic relationship, not a one-way street. Healing takes place in both directions as we realize that we are a part of the Earth’s living community, not separated.”
This week, we are expecting some warmer days. Take time to notice what is healed in you in creation. Take time to see what is always all around you, but you may have failed to notice in your busy days. This week, feel the solid ground beneath your feet, truly look at the clouds in the bright sky above you, let the sounds of the wind in the trees and the lush murmur of water moving across the land nestle into your heart. Carry this close and remember our connection with this precious earth, our island home. And then commit every day to do at least one small thing to help the existence of another – plant, animal, river, land, human being. We must respond to the urgency of this moment. Our precious life as we know it is in jeopardy. Be energized by the gratitude and the love for all that has been given and continues to give us life and joy. Remember that it is through our presence in this God given Creation that we know love.
Wendell Berry (born 1934)
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
“A Grass-Roots Movement for Healthy Soil Spreads Among Farmers” https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/04/09/597617822/a-grass-roots-movement-for-healthy-soil-spreads-among-farmers