1 John 3:16-24
I don’t really care about a tree that is lost in Kazakhstan , I must admit. I don’t know who planted it, or how long its been there. I don’t know why it was cut. I’ll never see it, and I haven’t seen it. On the other hand, I’ll be brought to tears if someone cuts my knee-high buckeye tree in my yard. My grandmother started it by seed, I’ve babied it, and I see it everyday. I bet in Kazakhstan they don’t care.
We really care about what we can name and claim. We’re just like that. When we’re personally invested into something, it becomes OURS and we want to care for it.
Jesus names and claims us, as we name and claim him. We’re invested — personally invested — in each other. He gives the example of a hired hand versus the owning shepherd. When the going gets rough, and there are wolves wanting dinner, the hired hand says ‘This is just a job! I need my life more than I need a job!’ and he takes off. But the shepherd says, ‘These are MY sheep. That is Billy Baa and that is Bonnie Baa. I’ll lay down my life to save their lives if its required.’ The hand is not personally invested in the sheep. The shepherd is.
That’s our John Gospel reading. We got it. Jesus loves us. We love Jesus.
Our Letter of John however addresses the implications, the meanings, of John’s Gospel. “We know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us — and therefore, we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
There is the stickler… just as Jesus names and claims us, and is willing to die for us, so too we name and claim each other and ought to be willing to die for each other. It sounds like an exaggeration. And so the author of John gives a tangible, touchable, buckeye-in-your-yard example of what lying your life down for another means: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need, and yet refuses help?”
You may not be called to give up your life for another.
But we Americans, who have most of the world’s goods, we see the people in Kazakhstan in need, and yet… refuse to help. How can we say God’s love abides in us?
On Earth Day, these writings remind me of our planet, and environmental justice. Roughly 80% of the world’s resources — energy, crops, shelter, minerals, animals, fresh water — are controlled and used by the richest 20% of the world. Just by being in America, you’re among this top 20%. There’s food and water and shelter abundantly here. We have so much electricity we light our roads at night even if nobody is on them, and we water our gardens with fresh drinkable water. Millions lack fresh drinking water — let alone enough fresh drinking water they could waste it by using it as toilet water. Millions lack electricity, or the electricity they have is spotty and back outs are common – so common insulin and other drugs that are sensitive to heat are stored in clay pots and buried under the ground in parts of Africa to try to preserve the life-saving drug.
We have the world’s goods.
And what are we doing with them? Largely destroying our environment and making life much, much harder for the world’s poor.
This is not intentional. I’m not saying a one of us here woke up and said, ‘What horrible evil thing can I do today? Ah! I’ll help kill children in India!’
No, but we are doing it.
Not a single snow flake says ‘I caused the avalanche,’ but together, the snow does.
Not a single person is set out to cause the world harm, but together, our little actions do.
And it’s because we don’t see the big picture. It is hard to think how flushing our toilet harms Africans, or how throwing away our plastic bags instead of reusing or recycling them starves Philippinoes. But taken together, all that energy used to clean our water, move it to our tanks, take it into the sewers, clean it again, makes an impact on the world. And all that trash goes somewhere, breaks down, becomes massive floating reefs of plastic in the ocean that kill fish and breed bacteria.
Little actions. Big impacts.
One snow flake in the avalanche.
So I start with where I am. With what I see. With a tree. I name it. Buckeye tree. I claim it. My buckeye tree. I know I am its shepherd. I start with what I see. Our watershed – the little creek right here by the church that grows and grows and meanders. I name it. This is the Upper Scioto watershed. I claim it. I live, and I work, and I love being in the Upper Scioto watershed. I am its shepherd. I think about how this little creek here flows and goes all the way to the Scioto River in Columbus. How that water is used on my tree. How the health of this creek is the health of my tree; and really, the health of me because this is the water I’m drinking.
Naming and claiming, I begin to see the bigger picture. Naming and claiming, I start to get how a little action here still has an affect way over there.
That’s how global climate change works. I know – many say global warming is false. When you name and claim your months, it does look false. We keep having snows over and over again this spring! The warming doesn’t speak to my backyard or your backyard. It speaks about the average over the entire world. And that average is up. Much like our little deeds work together to have a big impact around the world, a little bit warmer average has a big impact around the world.
It’s like wool blankets. We all need one to keep warm in winter. God gave us one called the atmosphere. As we did things, now, and in the industrial revolution, and put up more and more dust and particles and chemicals in the air, we got warmer. It’s like we were putting on more wool blankets. For awhile, nothing happened. But bit by bit, our core body temperature heated up. Now we’re realizing we need to kick some of these wool blankets off… but the only way we know how is to utterly give up our way of lives.
To lay down our way of lives.
Giving up electricity and plastic, chemicals and mass farming. And most of us really don’t want to do this. We’re comfortable. And most of the affects of the wool blankets is felt in other places — among the 80% of the world who doesn’t have easy AC units and fresh water on tap.
Because it looks so hard, most of us have done nothing. We continue about our normal lives. We say ‘I’m just a single snow flake, what affect do I have?’ and so we avoid doing even the littlest deeds that would help. Recycling. Turning off lights. Using rain barrels. Giving up a weed-free lawn.
And so we kept putting on blankets of smog and soot and Co2 in the air.
When all these blankets are on, and our core temperature rises, we tend to kick. We’re uncomfortable! The weather does the same. As the average temperature goes up, the front lines go from a nice wavy line around the world to an jagged heart-attack line. So instead of us getting a few days of cold, a few days of warm, and a nice transition in between, we go to having extreme cold in the morning, extreme heat in the evening, and a wild storm in between. The weather gets unpredictable in how wildly it is bucking about. This means what once was rare — a hundred year flood — now is common. Flooding all the time. Or drought all the time. Because the weather has gone haywire.
That’s why climate change is a more accurate term. Yes, it’s caused by warming… but not everyone experiences the warming. It’s an average world wide. EVERYONE, however, experiences the change in the climate. The mother-nature-has-gone-insane affect.
I think we, here in Ohio, just felt this, this spring.
And we’re going to feel it this summer as 100 degree days become the norm.
This insane weather is killing people here in America. With stronger hurricanes, as have hit Texas and Puerto Rico; with bigger floods that hit the bread basket every year; and with droughts that cause massive fires in the West.
And we’re the people with 80% of the resources to help us through.
The poor are those elderly in India suffering 110 degree weather with no AC or fans. And the people around Aral, as I spoke about in the children’s message. The poor are those who don’t have the resources to help themselves. Even in our own country, most of us would gladly have a hybrid car, have solar panels, and use rain water for our toilets… but changing to all of those takes more money than we have. In the world, 8 men — just 8 men — control 50% of the world’s wealth. And here in the US, no other country — not even the most corrupt one you can picture — has a greater disparity between the rich and the poor.
We are in the valley of death. Climate change is occurring, and is not stop-able, and the resources to adapt and prevent a greater change in the world’s climate are held by just a few.
Jesus had only one life to give.
But it was enough.
The early Christians had only their own bit of fish or bread to share, but it was enough.
Because… again… snow flakes. Individually they are quickly passing — here today and gone tomorrow. But together, they cause avalanches. Stop traffic. Change the shape of the world.
And Jesus knows this. Our Good Shepherd names and claims each of us individually, because as a flock we are the power to change the world. This is the commandment: to love one another. Who loves one another has Christ abiding in them. Who gives up their life for the flock retains their life.
Who gives up their one-time-use Styrofoam cups for the world retains their world.
Who gives up leaving the house heat on while gone for the world retains their world.
Who lives as a shepherd of the earth is welcomed by the shepherd of the earth.
Little changes have big, big impacts.
Little deeds pile up.
Let us love — not in words or speech — but in truth and action.
Let us commit to being shepherds to all the world – near and far.