Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Who's leading?

John 10: 11-16
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
April 22, 2018 – Earth Sunday


         When we think of Earth Sunday and Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we might conjure pastoral images in our mind’s eye: green pastures, spring flowers, cool clear water, blue skies, puffy clouds, and wooly sheep, with Jesus standing in the midst of this bucolic scene. And yet Earth Sunday compels us to look not only to our faith but to science when it comes to the care of the earth.


         It’s in our hands. Indeed it is, and yet science and political conversations won’t get us anywhere if we don’t first have a transformation of the heart. Gus Speth, an environmental lawyer and US advisor on climate change, said in an interview, “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”


         It’s baffling to me, as it probably is to you, that people choose not to believe in science. Flat earthers, climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, and moon-landing hoaxers have websites, social media pages, and a growing number of followers. But if people are not convinced by facts, there is indeed something else going on, even more so than selfishness, greed and apathy but also fear, anxiety, doubt, and despair. Science may not require our faith in it for it to be true, but it still requires our trust. And these days trust is often hard to come by, both in the public sphere and in our relationships with one another.

         Who are we listening to? What’s trending in our head? Who do we allow to lead us? Who do we trust? On our worship table we have photos of those who have been, who continue to be shepherds to us, who lead and guide us with compassion, kindness, wisdom, common sense, intelligence, and wholeheartedness. Some of us have heroes like Malala or Martin Luther King Jr. or the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school. Some of us hold to the wisdom of parents or other family members or dear friends.

         Our leaders, our shepherds, our guides are far from perfect, even those we idolize. We live among hired hands and predators, trying to find our way, as best as we can. We are ourselves hired hands and predators with our desires, needs, and wants, the rapacious way we continue to treat the earth and each other. Even when we listen to that still small voice within, we forget about things like unconscious bias and privilege and hidden commitments, assumptions, and the lies we tell ourselves. That tiny little organ in our brains, the amygdala, still has the power to override our logic, yes, even our love, with fear and anger, certain that it is right. We follow our hearts and say our heart is never wrong, but isn’t that where trust is born and yet also abused, where we carry our hurt and our grudges.

         Human as we are, we are in desperate need of a shepherd who accepts us no matter what, and so we follow Jesus or Muhammad or Buddha or Krishna or Waheguru or Confucius or Yahweh—all male, by the way. But even Jesus did not listen solely to his own counsel. Jesus made it clear in every gospel that it was not about him but about the One who sent him. Radical forgiveness and unconditional love and restorative justice and unbounded compassion do not come naturally. Even if we think of God as an idea, we still need the idea of God to help us do and be what does not come naturally: to evolve to a higher way of being; a cultural and spiritual transformation.

         Jesus called disciples—a servanthood community—to travel with him. There’s no such thing as an army of one. We’re in this together. It’s in our hands. And so as much as we need to listen to a leader, a guide, a shepherd, we need to listen to each other and to the earth. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I am the vine. I am the light. I am the bread of life. I am the way, the truth, and the life”. These remind us of the One who revealed to Moses, “I am who I am” or “I will be what I will be”. “I am” is an identity statement. If we are to be one people, sharing one planet, headed toward one future, we must become “we are”. In the Zulu language there is a word, ubuntu, which means “I am because we are”. But it goes even further than that: I am what I am because of who we all are. A person is a person through other people. Even more so, we are because the earth is.


         What do you believe in? In what and in whom do you put your trust? What do you really want? How will you live so that we all can live? Think of one thing you can do to move toward the cultural and spiritual transformation of “We Are”.

         Happy Earth Day, Church. Amen.

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