Not Your Run Of The Mill Shepherd
The liturgical calendar has been quite comical for preachers so far this year. First, we had Advent 4 and Christmas Eve on the same day (somehow between the hours of 4:00 and 5:00 pm the day on the Christian calendar changed). We kicked off Lent with Ash Wednesday on February 14, Valentine's Day (thinking of your own mortality and sin is a great way to set the mood right?). Then, Christ’s victory over death was celebrated on April Fool’s Day (I was quite disappointed at lack of practical jokes around here on Easter Sunday). Today, April 22, we continue the Eastertide celebration on Earth Day. For a church full of Prius drivers this is a day to celebrate creation, reflect on our calling to care for what God has given us to steward, and consider how that plays into the rising the church experiences during Eastertide. But pairing Earth Day and Good Shepherd Sunday seems odd.
Earth Day is an important day of the year and not just because I am an Eagle Scout and earned by nature merit badge. Earth Day is a reminder that while we all come from different backgrounds, have different likes and dislikes, and either choose to attend church or brunch on Sunday morning, we are all in this together. Unlike a wedding where you choose the person you are going to be with for better or worse, Earth Day is a reminder that for better or worse we are all in this together. Whether you like it or not, your decisions are connected to mine, and mine to yours. If we play our cards right we will leave the earth a better place for our children. If we don’t, temperatures will rise, the polar ice caps will melt, and there will be oceanfront property in Ohio.
Earth Day is a day when we clean streams, pay attention to what goes into which bin, and reconsider our last vehicle purchase because while it may look cool or be our dream car, it might not have been the best choice considering an aircraft carrier gets better mileage.
But while Earth Day is an important day on our calendar, theres something more important going on today. It is still Eastertide; today is Good Shepherd Sunday. And what exactly does that mean? Well I’m glad you asked.
By now I’m sure that you have deduced that in our scripture reading Jesus is the Good Shepherd. That makes us at best the sheep and some of us, possibly, the hired hands. For Jesus to speak these words, using statements like “I Am” was radical for the time. Jesus’ “I Am” declarations echo the words YHWH spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, “I Am who I Am.” In Christ’s declaration of his “I Am-ness” he is declaring not only his divinity but also his obedient following of God’s work: connecting his Jewish lineage to the divinity within him.
Jesus is not your run of the mill shepherd. While he does guide, lead, and feed those who follow him, he was also willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of his flock. But Jesus takes it a step further (a step that would frustrate those following him then and continues to frustrate followers today). While the Shepherd has gathered his flock now, he is continually finding lost sheep, keeping the gate open to those who were previously not allowed to join the flock or who have yet to hear the Good News of the Shepherd.
We, those who have already been welcomed into the flock become frustrated because we feel as though we have put in the work. We have done the things, checked the boxes, that we and others say need to be checked in order to have this Shepherd watch over us and then a new sheep comes into the flock, one that we’ve seen outside the flock, we know he hasn’t led the most holy life, and we’ve seen him put the wrong plastic in the wrong bin, and yet the Shepherd welcomes this person into the flock through the gate intentionally left open.
We are frustrated because they aren’t fill in the blank enough.
They aren’t green enough.
They aren’t spiritual enough.
They aren’t organic enough.
They don’t pray enough.
The community created by the Shepherd is open and inclusive. All are invited to join the flock. There is no one who is outside the reach of this Shepherd and no one so far gone that they cannot become part of the flock. Because the risen Christ is the Shepherd, and people like me are not our deepest fears, insecurities, and separations can be healed by the Shepherd. Whether you drive a Jeep or a Prius, whether you eat processed grains or are an organic vegan, the risen Christ invites you to come through the gate and join the flock.
Earth Day during Eastertide is a reminder that the Good Shepherd who was crucified and then raised on the third day died for you whether you recycle or not. And because of this love, the love freely given by the Good Shepherd, we are freed from creation care as an obligation and instead of caring for the earth is a response to the love and grace received from Christ. Creation care then turns from following a command to an expression of loving God and one another.