I Will Save My Flock: They Shall No Longer Be Ravaged
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
November 22 2020 Twenty-fifth and Last Sunday after Pentecost,
Reign of Christ Sunday
Psalm 95:1-7a; Ezekiel 34:11-12, 14-16, 20-22; Matthew 25:31-46
This is the last Sunday in Pentecost, the season celebrating the Holy Spirit moving through human hearts and hands and the fruit of all creation. Next Sunday we begin again in the darkness of Advent, waiting and watching for the rebirth of the light, but today the wisdom of the church year turns us toward the gleaming vision of the Spirit’s approaching fruition in a fully mature humanity.
Scriptures describe how the Spirit works in nature and human history, and of how the unevolved human ego departs from that sacred way.
Sages, saints and shamans in all cultures and spiritual traditions have recognized ethical laws that the Spirit follows. They all teach some form of the Golden Rule or love of neighbor as our self. They urge compassion for the most vulnerable, hurting and oppressed. They work to keep greed and violence in check because a society cannot survive for long if it is ruled by cruel selfishness instead of kindness and justice.
Jesus insists again and again that this ideal society, the realm of God, is near at hand, and our calling is to establish it on earth.
Today we look at what that means in the year 2020. We not only envision human society as God’s realm, we allow ourselves to long for it, to want it so badly that we are willing to lay down our lives as Jesus did to make it happen, because if we are willing, it truly can happen, and if we want life on earth to survive it truly must happen—now—the ancient dream fulfilled in our generation.
Psalm 95 says that the earth is God’s pasture, and we are God’s sheep and God is our strong sheepfold. The prophet Ezekiel says of God’s flock, “I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness…. I will save my flock…they shall no more be ravaged.”
Jesus says that good sheep are those who act as good shepherds. The ones who will inherit the earth are those who care for it as God does, who look after the lost and hurting and oppressed, who comfort them and care tenderly for their needs.
I asked four members of our community to reflect on where we, as a people, need to go now that the terrible year of 2020 is almost over. Each answered from their own perspective, Gus Speth as a leading environmentalist and new systems thinker, Mark Kutolowski as a contemplative teacher and spiritual director, and Rachel Guaraldi and Deadra Ashton as chaplains and spiritual directors.
All four echo the voice of the Prophet. “I will save my flock: they shall no longer be ravaged.” They name the failures and abuses of our dominant culture, they hold up a vision of the ideal realm and they offer practical guidance for how we can transform the world.
Gus Speth says our current culture is characterized by “the subjugation and exploitation of both non-human life and certain human groups.” He says that both the environmental and civil rights movements “see the origin of our country’s problems in the socio-economic system as a whole and in the values and institutions that support it. Simply put, the operating system in which we live and work is programmed for the wrong results.”
For instance, our operating system of “GDP growth at almost any cost, ever enlarging corporate profit, and runaway consumerism” is programmed to create inevitable environmental devastation and racist and classist exploitation.
Mark Kutolowski says that the way to meet “the urgent needs of our time” begins with “a sober acceptance…. that we are in a period of descent and decline—culturally, economically, and ecologically.” He sees that one of the things that blocks us from addressing our reality is our cultural belief in progress and continual growth that blinds us to the costs of our exploitation.
Rachel Guaraldi says, “We as part of this country and as part of this world have experienced a collective trauma.” She says, “Right now we have a lot to be angry about. The various losses we are experiencing, the actions and inactions of the political environment of our country, the restrictions on our freedoms…climate change, racism, unemployment…. The list goes on and on and on.”
Deadra Ashton talks about how tired we are in the face of both pandemic and political ordeals. She talks about “the howling voices of division and demonization of others” and “hateful, condescending, disturbing words” and the damaging frenzy of our consumerist culture.
All four of these visionaries recognize that the common root of all our problems lies in our values of selfishness and exploitation, and all four offer a way out of that realm.
Gus Speth says, “Love, care, respect—these we owe both to each other and to the natural world. Their common wellspring is an attitude of the heart—an abiding humility, awe, and reverence in the face of life’s wondrous creations.” We need to unite environmental and social justice movements to transform the world in that direction.
Mark Kutolowski leads us onto a path of spiritual descent as a way out of the insanity of our time. He says that by “consciously feeling our pain and the pain of our world in our bodies, we can open the doorway for a sane, sober future.”
We discover that “the Divine Life within us and at the heart of all creation is the one source of true power, peace, and life that cannot be shaken by external conditions.” Mark says, “A brighter future is still possible” if “we both open to divine reality and let go of our own self-centered motivations, at each and every moment.”
Rachel Guaraldi says, “if we as a community are going to heal our collective trauma and if we are going to walk forward with resilience into the coming future,” we need to become skillful at feeling, managing and harnessing emotional energy like anger so that it becomes transformed into a constructive, creative, life-giving force for change.
Deadra Ashton turns to the wisdom of the Prophet Isaiah who says “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Deadra says, “It’s easy for Americans to read this and get a sense of being tasked with bushwhacking our way through the thickets, tackling a tough project. We love that sort of thing.”
And that is part of what we need to do in order to escape the exploitive, consumerist society that is destroying itself and all nature.
But the same passage of Isaiah also says, “Comfort, oh comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly…”
Deadra makes an apt connection for this last Sunday in the church year: “In the coming Advent season we’re invited to practice comfort and tenderness, right alongside the practice of making a new path through uncharted territory and preparing the way for the Light to come once again…. This doesn’t mean that we’re excused from speaking truth to power or taking action for justice. It does mean that…. we need to listen to each other and treat one another with respect, comfort, and tenderness.”
The survival of human civilization and the natural world depends on our healing and transforming our society. Exploitation is so deeply rooted in our ego-driven capitalist society that it will take a miracle to change it.
And yet that miracle is happening before our eyes as these four visionaries describe. The Spirit is working through us to save the flock from being ravaged. The realm of God is at hand. We can and we must do this.
As Deadra says, “We have a long road ahead of us. It’s a marathon. Advent offers the opportunity to pause, rest, reflect and recharge as we engage in the on-going work of bearing Light in the darkness.”
Let us pray in silence, inviting the Spirit to guide, empower and prepare us to establish the realm of God on earth…