"Stewards of the World"

4 Easter.B.21(Earth Day)
1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

The American poet, Annie Dillard, writes of God; of God’s creation and what God loves, “The creation is not a mere study, a roughed-in sketch,” she begins, “it is supremely, meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly…look … at practically anything – the coot’s foot, the mantis’ face, a banana, the human ear – and see not only that the Creator created everything, but He’s apt to create anything. He’ll stop at nothing.” Dillard sums it up in this phrase: “The Creator loves pizzazz.”

There is wonder aplenty in our world. And it all comes from the same source - Love. From the creation of the world as told to us in the Book of Genesis, to the making of a new heaven and a new earth in the Book of Revelation, the creation of this twirling sphere upon which we dwell is based upon love. Think of creation as a fountainous overflow of divine creativity and love.
The Bible tells us our response to this love is to be through appreciation as well as care. We are fashioned to be stewards of all that God has created ranging from human beings in all of our vast array, to each blade of grass under our feet. In the Epistle lesson this morning from First John we are told that love is located in the person of Jesus Christ—and we should love one another as he has commanded us. In both the Gospel as well as the Twenty-Third Psalm, we are given a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd—a Shepherd who leads and protects us. And we, in our turn, are to emulate that same love and care that God has shown to us—not only in the realm of humanity, but also as relates to the world in which we dwell.

That’s a far cry from where we find ourselves today. While we’ve certainly had our share of fine stewards, (individuals such as John Muir and Jane Goodall come readily to mind. At this current moment our world is in a precarious place. The argument about climate change is over. The earth is warming at an alarming rate, and all but a very few are convinced that the pollution of our planet will only get worse, particularly as economies such as those in China and India seek to achieve the standard of living enjoyed in places such as the United States. We look around and see melting ice caps, storms intensifying, droughts increasing and the waters around our coast rising.

We’ve lost sight of the way in which God, humanity and nature are connected. In his novel The Brother’s Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky has the spiritual teacher Father Zosima put our interconnectedness this way: “All is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world…. Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing you will perceive the mystery of God in things.”

There’s a deep spiritual dimension to the stewardship of creation. While there is no doubt that over the centuries a dominate interpretation of stewardship has perceived the natural world solely as a gift from God intended to be dominated and plundered by humanity; there has always been an additional perspective to challenge this interpretation, one that has proclaimed the opposite--that each flower provides an insight into the nature of God, that a leaf proclaims the resurrection and that even something as small as a hazelnut, holds a universe within. As we behold our world the words of John Muir make sense. “When we try to pick out anything, by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” We are all connected.

In First John we read: “We know love by this, that (Christ) laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another (and he continues) Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” This notion of Love isn’t found merely in small efforts of appreciation; but in deeper acts of personal sacrifice. Being a steward of creation encompasses more than visiting the farmers’ market, signing our e-mails with messages about saving paper or peppering our conversations with words such as “sustainability” and “ecojustice”; it’s about seeing the world from a counter-cultural perspective—demanding that we confront the excesses of a n economy devoted to consumption; and that we invest in measures designed to address conservation initiatives not only in the beautiful places of our country and world we hope to visit—but in those less lovely places which have suffered the brunt of the degradation of our environment, places such as poor rural communities, out-of-sight areas of pollution, such as our oceans and deserts and urban areas covered primarily in concrete. There is a cost to loving in truth and action—and, as we see from the example of our Savior, the cost is high.” And so, a closer look at Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is warranted.

The Good Shepherd depicted in today’s Gospel isn’t simply sitting back and strumming a harp while lambs gambol about. In today’s gospel the Good Shepherd is a fierce protector—willing to do battle against the wolves, even at the cost of his own life. This is the picture we are given of God. It is a supreme portrait of a steward—protecting what is most important; and it stands at direct odds with what we are told of the hireling, who is less invested in the flock than in the paycheck.

Today’s lessons encourage us to contemplate where we find ourselves in this panorama of stewardship. Do we look at this world which God has made and see herein the theater of God’s glory, the place of God’s delight and the Garden of God’s encounters with humanity? Or is it just something to be used and exploited by those who have accumulated the most money and garnered the lion’s share of power? As you consider this world, ask yourself what kind of shepherd are you? Do you love in truth and action or are you content to love merely in words? How committed are we to this world, entrusted into our care? And what sacrifices are we prepared to make? What kind of steward do you want to be? There is a great, grand world outside our doors—let’s praise the God who created it, and seek to be empowered as good shepherds to help save it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.