Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
April 25, 2021 Fourth Sunday of Easter,
Good Shepherd and Earth Day Sunday
Luke 15:4-6; John 10:11-16; 1 John 3:16-17, 24
You can read or download the scriptures here: 4-25-21 Service Readings
Call to Worship:
Welcome to the United Church of Strafford, Vermont, on this Fourth Sunday of Easter and Good Shepherd and Earth Day Sunday. Today I want to begin by honoring a small but significant act toward creating the realm of God on earth: the responsible verdict in the murder of George Floyd.
We are coming to see that the way we shepherd humans and the way we shepherd the earth are inseparable. Racism not only fosters environmental injustice, it is an injustice against God’s earth.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The verdict in Minneapolis was the result of millions of people taking to the streets, pulling with all their weight on the arc of the moral universe, and now we have seen it bend, and feel moved by the courage and persistence that made this happen, moved that a world of justice is possible.
We still have far to go, but we can feel good today that our church was part of that arc-bending.
And we can recognize that this enormous movement that we were a part of is something even greater. It is not just a movement of people, but a movement of the earth, because as Jesus and all the major religious traditions teach us, Good Shepherding is a core characteristic of the creator of the universe and all that the creator made. It is the sacred way that flows through nature.
The Spirit that created the earth wants it to be the realm of God, a place of justice, harmony and sufficiency for all, and so the Spirit designed our hearts to be moved to shepherd the lost and hurting people and creatures around us.
This is a beautiful thing, a source of hope and joy, a love that can change the world. Let us celebrate it and pledge our entire lives to serve it as we worship together.
the sermon begins below
One of my earliest memories took place in an orchard where sometimes my family pastured sheep and other times my brothers played baseball. I was two, and my mother and I were sitting on the grass up the slope from the game when a ball got past an outfielder and hit me in the face.
My whole world exploded in pain, but my mother scooped me up and rocked me and comforted me, and in that green pasture my heart learned what Good Shepherding means. Yea, though I get hit in the nose with a baseball, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…
The first living cells that came into existence out of lifeless matter found a mother already there to shepherd them—mother earth, the Spirit of the universe, that has shepherded living cells for four billion years right up to ours today.
The Spirit brought cell membranes into existence already knowing how to be shepherds, keeping their cytoplasmic flock safe inside, allowing through the sheep gate only what would feed them. The Spirit of good shepherding has enabled life to grow and evolve into us.
The creation story in Genesis says we are here to preserve and protect the earth. (2:15) Shepherding is a core purpose of human societies and governments. What are police meant to be if not good shepherds?
Jesus defines the kinds of shepherding we are called to do: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.”
Jesus says that good shepherds will seek to restore every lost sheep. Good shepherding involves a preferential concern for the vulnerable and hurting and excluded to bring them back into the fold.
The Letter of I John says, “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?” It says, “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”
That good shepherding Spirit flows through us in our compassionate treatment of people and the earth. It creates the realm of God around us.
Jonathan Daniels was an Episcopal Seminarian from Keene, New Hampshire who volunteered for the civil rights movement in Alabama in 1965.
Daniels was sent to a small protest in one of the bloodiest counties in the south. The 29 protesters were all arrested and transferred to a jail in another town. They were held for six days and then without warning were released with no protection.
They were thirsty as they waited to be picked up, so Daniels and a white Catholic priest and two young Black women went to one of the few stores in town that was not Whites Only.
A deputy sheriff was waiting for them in the doorway with a shotgun. He took aim at seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales as soon as they were at close range.
Jonathan Daniels jumped in front of her. The shotgun blast killed him instantly.
The deputy was declared innocent by a jury of twelve white men and said in an interview later that he would still kill both Daniels and Sales if given the chance.
Ruby Sales took a long time to recover from the trauma. Eventually she went to Episcopal Divinity School where Daniels had been studying. She dedicated her life to working for human rights, founding The Spirit House Project in Daniels’ memory. It has documented thousands of police murders of black people, 98% of whom were unarmed. Sales continues her tireless work calling America to rise to the spirit of Daniels’ compassionate, courageous good shepherding.
Today many teens are filled with despair. They have no hope that our society will overcome its increasingly violent white supremacist Christian nationalism. They have no hope that we will overcome the massive corporate greed that is increasingly destroying local ecosystems and the global climate that we need in order to survive.
Today we have a message of hope and joy to offer them. We know of another way to live, a sacred way. We know ways to connect to the Spirit of the universe that is our deepest, truest self, that will guide and empower us to act as my mother did with her hurt little boy and as Jonathan Daniels did and Ruby Sales has done, and as the members of Strafford’s climate and antiracism groups are acting, and as this church acts every Sunday as we share our lives and care for one another.
This hope and joy is far greater than mere humans, it is the Spirit that created the universe, and it is constantly at work evolving life on a moral arc that will not stop bending until justice and harmony and good shepherding rule the earth.
The force we call God does not work like a king on a throne in heaven, it works through every living cell and soul and the systems that support all life. God works through people who choose to be good shepherds, who dedicate their lives not to selfishness but to serve the vulnerable and hurting parts of earth.
The Spirit of that love is flowing within and all around us. It abides in us and we abide in it. The question is, do we lay down our lives for it, do we make serving it the core of our meaning and purpose? That love offers us endless hope and joy. It is what has kept life going since those first single cells.
What good shepherding is God calling you to do now in your life? Let us pray in silence, opening to the Spirit’s presence and letting it guide. Let us pray…
Here is the video: