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Sermon: April 21st, 2024 - 1st John 3:16-24, John 15:1-8


“Saving the Earth: What will you give?”

1st John 3:16-24

John 15:1-8

In our modern world we may not truly appreciate the metaphor of a Shepard for the care of the Divine presence. After all few of us have a lot of experience with sheep.  Even today’s modern sheep farmer isn’t like the shepherds of ancient times.  So a bit of background might be helpful.  First shepherds, even those who owned sheep weren’t high status folk.  A shepherd wandering into town would bring a certain odour with them.  After all they are out in the fields often over night.  Their lives prevented them from ever meeting the purity laws of the time. Keep in mind that a typical shepherd who owns their sheep has a few sheep for his family. He might keep his sheep in the fold with the rest of the village but very few are actually his own. The Sheep fold is an enclosure with a stone wall.  There is an opening at one end sometimes with a gate but often protected by the shepherd. At night the shepherd literally lies done across the opening to guard the sheep.  A predator must get through the shepherd first.  This is the metaphor that Jesus offers for his care for his people.  To lay across the entrance between danger and shelter. 

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.””

Playing with idea of laying down ones life the 1st letter of John suggests that in our community of faith we be open to doing the same. 

“He laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” 

Without the Gospel reference we might think this is exclusively about the death on the Cross and perhaps redemption. But the shepherd doesn’t risk their lives to redeem the sheep rather to protect the sheep out of love.  We love each other and give of ourselves.  The writer the letter continues contrasting this with those who have “world’s goods” and refuse to help others.  Their readers are in a community in the early 2nd century with disparity of wealth. Some folks are well off and some are in poverty.  This letter writer challenges their readers to act like Christ and actually fulfill the love for one another.


April 22nd is Earth day so today as we come before the Creator in worship we acknowledge the Earth.  We sing our songs and give our thanks and praise to the Creator for the gift of Creation.  The Earth is given to us as our Garden home.  The Creation story in Genesis chapter one, the first creation story, gives human beings dominion over the Earth.  Everything is given to humans.  Yes, written by the humans and as we know the victor writes the story.  This is perhaps why the Spirit continually inspired prophets to offer a balance to this.  “You are dust and to dust you will return”, might be a good start but maybe the shepherd metaphor is more helpful.  Perhaps in the view of the Divine, dominion should look like a shepherds dominion over the sheep. Earth day might be a reminder to us to shepherd the Earth not to own it.


What then as shepherds of the Earth are you willing to give, to sacrifice for the protection of this garden home?  There is no longer any denying that the Climate is in trouble.  The last ten years have held all the records for weather extremes.  We have experienced the smoke and heat and drought.  I am tired of learning new weather terms.  Heat Dome, atmospheric river, fire tornado.  There will be water restrictions for most southern Alberta this summer.  Crops will be limited.  This weeks news was 4 inches of rain in 24  hours on the coast the UAE: More than twice Dubai’s annual rainfall in 24 hours.  The Earth needs us to give of ourselves to protect and save it.  Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome “Creation awaits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”  The Earth is dependent on our redemption from users and takers to protectors and leavers.  Our true redemption leads to the transformation of our relationship with the Earth, from users to shepherds.


Now we can talk about all the various things we can do to change our ways.  Drive less, use electric cars, fly less, buy locally grown food, insulate our homes, install more efficient heating; there are lots of things we could consider and I am sure you are doing some of them already.  But the underlying understanding of Creation is just as or more important.  If we believe we have a right to the resources of Creation, a first right before animals and the Earth itself then we will continue to only offer bandaids for world that needs stitches. If Dominion means ownership and power over then we are lost but if dominion means shepherd care then there is hope for us and the Earth.


It would be a radical shift for all of humanity to lie down between the climate predators and the Earth. To protect the Earth as the first priority.  It is not to say that we must all learn to live on lentils and beans and never travel and live in caves or homes made of hand hewed stone.  Rather we shift from taking more than we give back.  One of my favourite books was written in 1979 by Daniel Quinn as social anthropologist.  Titled Ismael it is a story of a mountain Gorilla named Ismael who has learned to speak and while living on a trust fund secretly teaches a people about the realities of human history. This approach allows the author to explore an outside view humanity’s relationship with the Earth. One of the primary premises of Ismael’s teaching is that human societies are divided between Takers and Leavers. Guess which kind of society we live in.


Takers uses the resources of the Earth as means to accumulate more.  A taker society will conquer another society and take everything. They take the land and resources of the other society.  Growth and expansion is consider the only goal. The Roman Empire was a taker empire.  It conquered lands and took ownership.  Leaver societies can also be violent and even be at war but the winners don’t claim the land after the victory.  The First Nations societies of this land were leavers.  They did indeed take from the land but they left what they didn’t need for their immediate needs.  One group may attack another and even kidnap individuals but they didn’t take over the land.  Another example of the difference between takers and leavers is the West Coast first nations tradition of the pot latch.  When a chief or an advantage individual or group started to accumulate processions and wealth they would throw a party and give gifts to the whole community.  Sometimes extravagant gifts. The Canadian government out lawed pot latches in the 1950 because as takers they couldn’t understand a leaver society.   The Haida were greatly feared along the whole coast of the North America. They were like the Vikings of the West Coast. They would come down the coast and raid villages, kidnapping people and stealing.  Yet they didn’t come to settle the lands, or rule over the people. The left behind the villages whole and whole enough to continue on. 


The modern world is a full on Taker societies. We are told repeatedly that unless we are growing our economy we are failing. This week’s federal budget is full of the taker approach. Grow the economy. Use more of the resources of the Earth.  The trans-mountain pipeline is part the same concept. Take more from the Earth, ship more, export more. I know I am drifting into thin ice here but this way of thinking is found through out modern world.  The belief that humanity is entitled to harm Creation for its’ our own gain is rampant.


In the book Ismael tells his student: “What is crucial to your survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison, but rather the destruction of the prison itself.”  We can change the tax system. This is what was done between the 1930 and 1960s.  The ultra wealthy paid way more.  Governments built infrastructure, social programs like CPP, medicare and welfare benefits were created. Today billionaires pay a smaller percentage of their income than most of us here.  So sure we can change few things and make a difference.  Maybe even be brave enough to pay a fee for our carbon use but then that is another story.  However, a deep change is needed and it starts in our hearts and minds with a new understanding of our place in Creation.  Humanity needs to break out of the prison of lie that only growth is the measure of success.  It is not “he who dies with the most toys wins.”  The new understanding should be the hikers rule of back country trails: “Leave nothing but foot prints and take nothing but pictures.”  We need something more than “shifting the deck chairs on the sinking ship.”


When we acknowledgement the land at the beginning of our worship service and many community events we tend to focus on acknowledging the first nations and their relationship with the land. Last week I adapted your land acknowledge to start by first actually acknowledging the Earth, Creation and all Creatures and then the people who lived and cared for this land.  The river that divides and defines this valley is critical part of this piece of Creation.  The animals, the trees, the low brush on the valley floor is the defining feature of this land, not highway one or the national parks, or the mountains ski slopes. What matters to the wandering coyote, or the fox in her den, or jack rabbit among the sparse trees, this is what defines this land. Acknowledging the land means we accept our place within the land, not separated from it, not above, or over the land, not something we own or control but a sacred place we protect and nurture. And in doing so we might find that we have peace in our hearts, then we become again part the Earth, then we see the crow on the tree and think brother sister, or the deer wandering through the town as equally belonging here.  The shift is first in our hearts, then our behaviour and actions change.  We lay down before the gate to protect the Earth out of love and connection. We begin to leave behind some of the wealth of Creation for others. We plant not for our own gain but for the gain of Creation as a whole.  And out of gratitude.


Slowly then the shift in thinking spreads to others and soon we discover others throughout the Earth are already there.  I have a vision that one day the care for Creation will be the priority for all nations.  War will cease because all people will have enough because others are not trying to have more.  Can you too have a hope for the redemption of the children of God, for the saving of the Earth?  It starts with a shift from dominion over to shepherds laying down our lives for the protection of this Sacred Garden, this small blue green dot in the sky, this home of ours.

 

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