Tag: Shepherd

Known & Claimed – Earth Day

John 10:11-18 OceanWarming01a529px
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.

Amen.

 

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Do Not Fear

DSC_237012 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:26-38

Do not be afraid.

This is a strange greeting, isn’t it? Yet this is how Gabriel, in the Gospel of Luke, says hello to Mary and Zechariah both.

Do not be afraid – this is the greeting the Angels give the shepherds.

“Each word of assurance offered by the angel is not without cause. Indeed, each instance is accompanied by an awe-inspiring, even unusual moment that reasonably sparks wonder and even fear. Indeed, the practice of offering a word of assurance at moments of supernatural wonder and disruption to the norms of daily life is something Jesus takes up in his ministry later in the gospel.” ((Shivey Smith))

Jesus will tell Simon – do not be afraid, from now on, you wish fish for people. To Jarius – do not be afraid! Just believe, and your daughter will be healed. And to the disciples, and to us, Jesus will say, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”

Do not be afraid.

It’s a strange greeting, but maybe one we should use.

Do not be afraid, it is Christmas Eve and the very God who crafted your bones from atoms, and the cosmos from chaos, who has numbered your head hair and set breath in the lungs of dinosaurs and humans alike – has come to us as a helpless baby who can’t even find his fingers to put in his mouth let alone walk, talk, or rule as our prince of peace.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this.

Do not be afraid – Mary – you are favored with a child conceived out of wedlock, to be born in a barn, raised as a refugee, condemned as a criminal, and murdered before your eyes.

But God’s got this.

Do not be afraid, Saint Michael’s – we have God’s favor, too. And it isn’t good times, and wealth. God’s favor isn’t an easy life and endless happiness. God’s favor is messier.

Like – new born diaper messy.

Like – 3-days dead Lazarus messy.

Like – empty tombs and locked doors and miracles and crucifixions and martyrs and loving that person you’d love to hate messy.

God’s favor is an invite to be part of the very re-creation of the world.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this – and God wants you to be a part of it.

Do not be afraid “functions as an invitation for Mary to do the unusual and the bold for the sake of the entire world because “nothing will be impossible with God”” ((shivey smith))

Do not be afraid is our invitation to step out and do the unusual and the bold too – because the house and kin-dom of God are now forever sure.

The unusual – that which isn’t to be mentioned in polite company – we’re to bring up those topics and causes, and live out that unusual way of reaching out to the outcasts, the marginalized, the vulnerable, the hated. Do not be afraid – you’re going to get filthy on the outside, but inside, you’ll be whiter than snow. Do not be afraid – God is with you.

We’re invited to be bold. To speak the words people do not want to hear. To preach love when everyone is throwing stones. To be God’s advocate when that is anything but popular. But do not be afraid – God is with you.

Anything is possible for God… God does miracles in the Bible, and is doing miracles now. So why does God bother with the messiness of involving us? Rev. Kathryn Matthews of the UCC writes, “we suppose that God could have chosen to save the world, to fulfill God’s promises of old all on God’s own; after all, nothing is impossible with God.

However, this humble but earth-shaking conversation [between Mary and Gabriel] tells us that God wants humanity to be part of the effort, even if it makes things much more complicated and even difficult (which it does): As Brian K. Peterson writes, “God apparently is not willing to do this behind our backs or without our own participation” (New Proclamation Year B 2008).”

Think about it – if you’re not invested into the world, will you care for it?

If you don’t have ownership, will you protect it?

I hear this time of year many people complain that kids have too many belongings, that everything is handed to them, and they don’t appreciate what they have then.

I hear all the time that said about my own generation.

There’s some truth to this, and it has nothing to do with age or generation. It has to do with investment.

I care more about those things I have spent time on, loved, prayed over, hoped for, and fought for. I care more about what I have tangibly put my hands on than what I have only a dim understanding of.

I care more about people I know, then those I don’t know.

You’re likely the same.

Maybe, God comes with this strange greeting of ‘do not be afraid’ and then leaps into humanity on humanity’s terms as a messy baby to get us more invested, more involved, with the cares of God – with the cares of re-creating the world into a place of love, hope, peace and joy.

Maybe we have a hard time loving the hard to fathom God of the universe… but we know how to love a baby, a child, a person. And so, God in the flesh, invites us to start loving others here.

And, maybe you can’t really care about a billion people you’ve never met… but you can care very dearly for your neighbor. And God says – yes! Do it. Love them deeply. Do not be afraid – I got this – But I want you to be a part of it, doing your own small part.
Here we are – our last Sunday of Advent, on Christmas Eve it’sself – what charity am I going to speak about?

Our own. Where we are doing our small part.

I’m talking about the moms and dads, grandparents, and aunts and uncles and friends and cousins in Baltimore and around the city who are sitting down today to eat a meal you donated.

I’m talking about the kids who don’t have to worry about if there will be breakfast tomorrow on Christmas morning because of you.

The Baltimore Thurston Food Pantry is our charity for today. It is messy. It is chaotic. It is God’s work in our community. It is an unusual and bold way God invites us to work alongside God.

Yes, there are food stamps. These takes weeks to apply and receive. People tend to like to eat every day and not once every few weeks.

Yes, there is emergency assistance. What if your emergency lasts a month – or two – before you’re able to find another job?

Yes, there are people ‘cheating the system.’ What does Tabitha do to earn a resurrection? What does Lazarus do? What have you done to earn God’s love?

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

God just loves you. And we’re called to just love others.

No qualifications asked.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this – and wants us to get involved too.

Needing a gift for that hard-to-buy-for-person who has everything? Now? In the final hours? Consider donating in their name.

From manger to temple, and from senate and house to our local food pantry – from the lowly to high and high to lowly – God is working, and inviting us, to make the vertical world horizontal, to be bold, to be unusual, to love justice and walk humbly and let our lives be our message of God’s radical love.

Amen.

Sheep and Sheep

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24ararat-sheep-20

Matthew 25:31-46

Today is Christ the King Sunday – the day we proclaim Christ is King over all the world, the lord over all lords, the highest politician, highest ruler, over all rulers. Everyone and everything belongs under Christ’s rule and we anticipate the day this reign is fully actualized.

This sounds fantastic.

Until you consider there are 1.3 billion Muslims; 1.1 billion atheists, 900 million Hindus, not to mention a billion some more Buddhist, Pagans, Jews, Sikhs and hundreds of more religions. These people are not Christian.

If Jesus were to return right now, this very moment, would 70% of the world’s population be instantly damned – just because they were born in non-Christian areas, or to non-Christian families, or found a connection to God in a non-Christian religion?

Matthew’s gospel is addressed to early Christians living among all the non-Christians. And Matthew recounts Jesus talking about sheep and goats among the nations.

Nations. Peoples.

Not just the Jews Jesus was speaking with, but the nations – the gentiles – the non-Jewish, non-Christian, Romans or Grecians or Egyptians or Babylonians — people who did not confess Jesus as Christ. People like all the neighbors and communities, indeed, families, of the early Christians.

The neighbors and communities and families of ourselves.

Jesus says when he returns, the whole world will be judged.

Are all non-Christians going to hell and all Christians going to heaven?

Jesus’ parable says that to the shock of the nations – to the shock of Christians and non-Christians everywhere – there are blessed people among all nations. There are heaven-bound men and women and children who are Muslim, and who are spiritual but not religious. There are faithful Hindu priests and Buddhist monks in heaven.

And each and every one say, “Jesus – when did I serve you? I didn’t.”

And Jesus, in his parable, replies, “Whatever you did to the most vulnerable in your community, you did to me.”

And Jesus takes the sheep, the people who followed the Good Shepherd without even realizing it, and takes them into his heavenly flock.

And what of the goats? When Jesus talks about the nations — all peoples and all religions – this includes all religions, including Christianity. We’re the largest religion on the face of the Earth.

Jesus tells his disciples that the goats are just as shocked as the sheep to be NOT included. They thought they were sheep, thought they were following the Good Shepherd, but instead, they were following other lords and kings and gods while giving lip-service to Jesus. They ran with the flock of sheep here on earth, but their hearts and deeds didn’t reflect the heart and deeds of Jesus.

These Christians say, “Jesus, when did we not aid you?”

And Jesus replies to them, too, “Whatever you denied the most vulnerable in your communities, you denied to me.”

Jesus here is referencing but also advancing the words of the prophet Ezekiel.

In Ezekiel, the Israelites are scattered in exile across many lands. Why has this happened? Ezekiel says because the people have been exploited. The exploitation of the vulnerable, the weakest, the people have ruined communities and destroyed the nation. The shepherds of the people, their leaders, have failed them. The shepherds have gotten rich and changed rules to benefit themselves while the people have gotten poor and suffered injustices. As Ezekiel puts it, “Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep” (34:2b-3).

Ezekiel spoke about how God would go out and gather in God’s people from all the nations… and then God would separate the sheep from the sheep. They all look the same, but God sees a difference. A difference in who these sheep truly belong to. Remember – sheep follow the voice of the one who leads them – not a stranger.

Ezekiel says when God comes, God comes with justice. God reverses each wrong dealt to the people. Wounds are healed, bellies are filled, rest is given. God, God’s self, takes over and is in charge. And God separates the fat sheep from the lean. “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide… I will judge between sheep and sheep.” And the fat and strong sheep are destroyed, while the hurting ones are fed justice. Injustice has made them lost, injured and weak. Justice will make them strong, united, and healthy again.

Ezekiel is not speaking about Israelites and non-Israelites. He is speaking about all the Israelites. Among God’s own people – among the sheep and sheep – God is judging which of us have been bullies, and have led soft lives at the detriment of others. Which of us have gotten rich off the labor of the poor. Which of us use more resources than others. Which of us refuse to share and attack the starving, injured, or weak when they come to our areas.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, and he sits on the throne to judge all nations… the surprise is there are many non-Christian sheep, and many Christian goats. The surprise is there are many holy and good people who are not Christian; and there are many sinful and evil people who ARE Christian.

The judgement is, who has, in the words of Micah, done justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with God?

In Matthew, being a Christian does not make you good or bad; does not mean you are Saved or Unsaved; does not mean you are pleasing or displeasing God. What you believe, and how you act upon that belief, determines your destiny. If you believe in the goodness of the world, and you believe we are meant to love one another, and you act in loving deeds – you are a sheep, whether or not you know it. And if you believe its a dog-eat-dog world, and no kind deed goes unpunished, and you act in selfish ways – you are a goat, whether or not you go to church.

Now, in our country, it is rare to find any politician who says they are a religion other than Christian. Being ‘Christian’ gets you votes. It means you’re mainstream, respectable, trustworthy. Being ‘Christian’ means you can claim God is on your side, and if people don’t vote for you, they are voting against God. Being ‘Christian’ means you are above any wrongs.

These ‘Christians’ are fat sheep and goats. These Christians are the ones who cry ‘Lord, lord,’ but who never actually know Christ. You know who these false Christians are because the way they vote in the House or Senate, or their executive orders, or the policies they advocate, harm the most vulnerable.

The most vulnerable people in our country are illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, gays and lesbians, transgendered, unwed single mothers, children, teachers, and those with criminal records. The most vulnerable people in this country are blacks, women, Native Americans, the elderly and millennials. The most vulnerable people in this country have mental health issues. Physical ailments. Addictions.

The fat sheep in our country are born here, are sexually ‘straight’ or pass as heterosexual, they are white, married, and male. The fat sheep in our country have never been in trouble with the law – or if they have, had had their record expunged. They are affluent, educated, and are able to shape the world about them through their financial, political, or social sway. Instead of using all the power they were born into to be a wise leader, a good shepherd, a guide to make the world a better place… instead, they use their power to make sure they have more power, more money, more sway.

The Internet Freedom movement is anything but freedom for you and I. It permits the rich to have freedom to choose what the poor must pay to access websites. Sites that speak truth to power, sites that challenge the way things are – sites that advocate for the most vulnerable – may not be accessible because you don’t pay enough… or may be blocked all together.

The tax bill the House passed gives steep discounts to owners of private businesses — but makes teachers pay for their own teaching supplies. It drastically reduces the taxes on the most affluent in the country and raises the taxes on the poorest. In other words, it rewards the rich and punishes the poor.

Those fleeing the lack of infrastructure, intense crime and poverty, and earth quake after tsunami after hurricane of Haiti are kicked out of the country. Along with all who try to escape Sudan. Although, we are now free to import all the oil we want from Sudan… but its people are denied sanctuary from the Sudanese wars where 6,000 some children fight in Darfur and crucifixion is still a legal way to kill political prisoners.

If what we do to the most vulnerable, we do to Christ…

We are deporting Jesus.

We are forcing Jesus to pick between paying his water bill or eating today.

We are telling Jesus he was born evil, thinks evil, and the world would be better off if he killed himself.

We are cramming Jesus into little prison cells and giving him 2 cents a day for his slave labor.

We are punishing Jesus for being born not-White, for being not-Married, for being Middle Eastern, for being a refugee, for being an advocate of the poor and destitute, for being a promoter of women’s rights, for thinking children matter, for challenging authority and government, and for being a lean sheep.

We are only as Christian as how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

Now… being white is not a sin. But it is being born with power. Born as a shepherd. Are you a good shepherd? Or are you a shepherd who’d rather ignore or harm the other sheep?

Being rich is not a sin. It is owning power. But it means we have a responsibility to generously and lavioushly share that wealth with others – so none are fat and none are thin.

Being straight, and/or male is not a sin. It means, however, responsibility as the ‘norm’ to invite the other in and LISTEN to how life is different. It means you are responsible to help make the world a better place for ALL PEOPLE.

This is Christ the King Sunday. We are celebrating the current reign of Christ, and anticipating the full reign.

Think of what that day will be — when the low are lifted and the high are lowered so all are equals.

Think of what that day will be – when we all eat justice. Will justice be sweet or bitter to you?

Do you look forward or do you fear that glorious day?

We are called to a radical life. Radical. Outside the norm. We are envisioning a radical future. A time of reversals. That time and day are ever closer – and we are invited to live into it now.

Come – live as Christ’s own and give up the selfish idols!

Come be a lamb of God! For God is seeking you, welcoming you.

Come, repent, change your ways, and return to the fold of Christ.

Come, follow the good shepherd, born in a barn, yet king over kings, yet lord over lords.

In your own hearts, recommit yourselves to being Christian.

Amen.

Psalm 23 Call to Worship

Based on Psalm 23
One: God is our Shepherd, we shall not want.
Many: God leads us to green pastures and living waters.
One: God restores our souls, and teaches us right from wrong.
Many: Even though we face dark days, and scary hours —
One: — We will fear no evil, for God is with us.
Many: God’s rule and God’s guidance comfort us.
One: God sets a table for us in the middle of our bad times
Many: And God anoints us with joy, comfort, and our lives overflow.
All: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us always,
For we will always live in the presence of God.