of the Earth
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
The text for our
reflection this 'Earth Day' Sunday comes from the 21st chapter of the
gospel of John. This is an account of the last appearance of Jesus
in the gospel of John:
When they had finished
breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you
love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know
that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16A
second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said
to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17He said to him
the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt
hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And
he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love
you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18Very
truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own
belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will
stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you
and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19(He
said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify
God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
This final act of the risen Christ has
several functions in the gospel of John. First of all, it
represents the redemption of Peter. The three-fold question and
response between Jesus and Peter recalls quite intentionally, I think,
the three-fold denial by Peter predicted by Jesus at the last supper
(and narrated by John in chapter 18).
And so Peter has come
full-circle. Called from the Sea of Galilee to follow Jesus to
Jerusalem where he betrays Jesus, he is now called by the Sea of Galilee
to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth where he will die as a martyr
for Jesus (according to church tradition and apparently confirmed in
this text). And so the denier of Jesus becomes the martyr for
Secondly, it reinforces one of the
central themes of John's gospel that love for Jesus is shown by our love
for one another. Talking to one of the folks setting up for the
Church of Science this morning [their building was vandalized this
week], it was interesting to hear them as Patty and I were working with
them as they were getting setup, to talk about this opportunity that
they now have to show love to a member of our community who obviously is
quite disturbed, troubled, we're not sure why. The police are
investigating this as a hate crime because of messages he left directed
against Christians. And they see that not so much as a threat to
them, as an opportunity to show their love to someone in our
community. Indeed, I think will provide a wonderful witness to
After the last supper, Jesus gives the
disciples this new commandment, he says ". . . that you love one
another. Just as I love you, you also should love one
another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciple if
you have love for one another". And then he repeats himself
just two chapters later, not because they have short memories, but
because John wants to emphasize the importance of this
commandment. And so in chapter 15, John tells us that Jesus says
"This is my commandment", singular, not 10, not 5, not even 2
as reported in the other three gospels -- that you should love the Lord
your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and shall love your
neighbor as yourself -- here it is just one that sums it all up.
That "you love one another as I have loved you".
And then Jesus adds this:
"No one has greater love than this that they lay down their life
for their friends".
Coming back to Peter after the events
of Good Friday, and asking him "Do you love me?" is a way of
saying "OK, you didn't get it right the first time, so let's try
again". Now that's love.
Third, Peter here functions not as the
chief disciple but as the first disciple, the prototype of
discipleship. The task he his given -- to tend to the flock of
Jesus -- is the task of all disciples. This is what it means for
us to love Jesus. As Marcus Borg is fond of saying, to believe in
Jesus is to 'belove' Jesus. That means that we must love what
Jesus loved. His flock is our flock. His passion is our
Or, to put it in different terms, the
image that we have of God is often what shapes us. If we know God
primarily as a judge, condemning others, then we tend to be very
judgmental and condemning. If we view God as one filled with anger
and wrath, then we tend to people who are very angry and wrathful.
If we view God as victorious conqueror, then we are Duck fans J.
So, call to mind the 23rd Psalm -- 'the
Lord is my shepherd'. What kind of image does that give you of
God? 'He makes me lie down beside green pastures, he restores my
soul, he leads me to still waters'. Very peaceful, calm, gentle
image. To affirm God as a shepherd is not only to say that we are
part of God's flock, but that we are called to share in God's task of
If you've ever spent much time with
sheep, you know that being compared to sheep is not exactly a
compliment. There's a reason why sheep need a shepherd and sheep
dogs -- it's because they're just plain dumb! And I have a picture
to prove it:
Notice this sheep here climbing over
the fence, and the sign that says "Do Not Climb Over
Fence"! How dumb can you get? Judy Siebert who actually
took this picture (it's not her sheep but she has a neighbor with a lot
of sheep, and she helps her neighbor out with the task of shepherding),
she tells me that when one sheep goes off into a gully, all the other
sheep just follow along. No idea where they're going, next thing
they know, they're down in this gully with no idea how to get out.
And they're trapped.
So to be a shepherd, you see, is a
challenging task precisely because sheep are so clueless, and need that
guidance and protection.
If we are all shepherds, then who or
what are the sheep? Typically we think of Matthew 25, and that
parable of the sheep and goats, where Jesus says "I was hungry, and
you fed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick in prison and
you came and visited me", and we say those are the sheep of
Jesus. Or we think of Luke 4 when Jesus says "The spirit of
God is upon me to proclaim good news to the poor, to set the oppressed
free, to give sight to the blind", and we think those are the sheep
of Jesus. Or John 10 where Jesus says "I am the good
shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep", and
we think of all those for whom Christ gave his life.
But that's not quite true, is it, that
a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Because think
about that -- if the shepherd does that, he leaves the rest of the flock
shepherd-less and vulnerable. Jesus, of course, is not talking
about sheep, is he?
My image of the good shepherd has been
updated this week by Liviu Librescu, that 76 year-old professor,
aeronautics engineer at Virginia Tech. I know many of you have
read about him and been touched by his story. A Jew, born in
Romania, survived the holocaust only to be persecuted by the Romanian
dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, eventually immigrated to Israel before
finding his way to the United States. For the last 20 years, has
taught at Virginia Tech, well beyond retirement -- didn't have to do it,
did it because of his love for teaching. When that shooter came
down that hallway, killing all who got in his way, Dr. Librescu locked
the door and told his students, his flock, to jump out the window.
And the last student who did so turned to see his professor struggling
to hold the door shut as the shooter tried to make his way in. He
gave his life for those students. We don't know how many lives he
saved that day, but that last student will always carry that image with
him for the rest of his life, knowing that he owes his life to that
Ironically, Monday was the holocaust
day of remembrance. May we never forget. Liviu
Librescu was indeed a good shepherd.
Few of us, I hope none of us, will ever
be put in that place, will be afforded that opportunity, to make such a
sacrifice. And yet we do have such an opportunity every day.
Contrary to a few remaining nay-sayers who refuse to believe, the
scientific evidence continues to mount that the earth is in serious
trouble, and if changes are not made very soon, thousands if not
millions of lives could be, likely will be, lost due to the effects of
The most recent evidence comes from the
regions of the Arctic where the thinning of ice has made it increasingly
difficult for Eskimos to fish and hunt. It seems rather odd for us
to realize that there is an entire culture that depends on extreme cold
and ice for their livelihood. And yet that lifestyle, which goes
back to before the time of Christ, may cease to exist within our
So when Jesus says "Feed my
sheep", does he mean that we are to take care of those Eskimos, who
like native peoples before them who depended on the buffalo, may no
longer be able to support themselves? Or could it be that tending
to the sheep of Jesus may also mean caring for the earth, that the sheep
will not starve?
magazine that I just saw laying out this morning is dedicated to Earth
Day and the environment. A wonderful column in here by Michal
Pepper who notes that 20% of the population of Bangladesh lives 1 meter
above sea level or below, and thereby is threatened by any rising of sea
levels. And he says "Jesus tells us we can't love God without
loving others. Authentic religion based on the love of God creates
a community that cares for everyone, rich and poor, the greatest and the
least. Taking care of the environment is about loving
So think about it this way -- if we are
not the shepherds of the earth, then who? If we do not care for
the earth now, then when? Global warming seems like such an
enormous problem, I mean after all, it's global. What can we
Kitty Piercy's "Mayor's Climate
Challenge" is a bold attempt, I think, to get all of us in this
community to act collectively. That we, by combining our small
little individual efforts, may make a significant difference. And
so she launched, in conjunction with Earth Day, this challenge, and she
she said: "Global warming is not something that affects the
polar bears and the glaciers, it's here in Oregon, where we are
experiencing reduced snow pack in the Cascades, higher temperatures,
more wildfires, all as a result of climate change. Those trends
are expected to continue, especially if we follow the path we've been
traveling until now. Working together, we have solved other
problems in the past, and I am optimistic that we know how to tackle
global warming. We can do our part to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions. It is up to each and every one of us to make a
commitment to reduce our contribution to climate change".
So, just how are we to do that?
Let me show you this graph that the City of Eugene put together (with
help from the University's Climate Leadership Initiative) that
calculates the average contribution of residents of Eugene of how much
carbon dioxide we produce per citizen:
On average, we produce 13
and a half metric tons of carbon dioxide (carbon dioxide is the chief
problem that produces the greenhouse effect, causing the climate
change). To visualize that, it would take about a ton and a half
of carbon dioxide to fill a hot air balloon. So, 13.5 tons would
represent about 9 hot air balloons, that each one of us produces and is
released into the atmosphere.
The single largest
contributor of that, just over 5 tons, comes from car travel. Then
below that is air travel, which is represented by one single flight to
the Pacific southwest to get more sun J.
Food consumption is 2 tons, consumption of other goods is another 3.5
tons, space heating and cooling is 1 ton. So you get an idea of
the total production.
Obviously, vehicles are
the #1 problem, and that is why purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles
(or better yet, using alternative modes of transportation) is the single
most important thing that any of us can do to literally save lives and
possibly even save the planet as we know it.
But what if you're like
that right young ruler who goes to Jesus and says "What must I do
to inherit eternal life?". And Jesus says "Keep the
commandments, tithe to your church, and always, always, treat your
pastor nicely J.
Then you shall have eternal life". And you say, well, I've
got my hybrid vehicle, or a vehicle that does 40 miles to the gallon or
So what else can I
do? Well, that's the beautiful thing about this initiative,
they've set up a web site -- www.sustaineugene.com
-- and when you go to that web site, you can click into Mayor Piercy's
Climate Initiative. And there's an opportunity for you to sign up.
But before you do that,
you need to know what you're signing up for, and there's a little
calculator that enables you to calculate how much carbon dioxide your
household produces. So I'm going to take the Bryant household as
an example -- we have 4 people, electric heat, how many miles we drive,
our average gas mileage, average heating bill, etc. Then it asks
whether we recycle newspaper,
glass, plastic, aluminum, etc -- that subtracts from our carbon dioxide
emissions. Our total emission in the Bryant household is
calculated at 39,000 pounds, a little less than the national average.
What can we do to reduce
that further? Well, if we bought a vehicle that gets 5 more miles
to the gallon, it will save over 2,000 pounds (1 ton) of carbon dioxide
annually. If we drive 50 miles less, it will save another 1,500
pounds of carbon dioxide. If we turn down our heat at night
because we're all bundled up in bed, by 5 degrees, that's 380
pounds. If we replace our light bulbs with more efficient ones,
that's another 500 pounds. If we replace our refrigerator with
something more energy efficient, that's another 500 pounds, and so on
and so forth. You get the idea.
Here's a big one -- single
pane windows, if you replace those with energy star windows, that's
3,800 pounds. And we get to the end, and we see that we have now
reduced our carbon dioxide emissions by 8,800 pounds.
What else can we do?
Click on the checklist and it takes you to a list of lots of other ideas
of things that you can do. There's a list for transportation, for
your home, for food, for waste, for your yard, and for each of them you
have an opportunity to click whether you're already doing this, or if
you'll commit to doing this, or you've started doing this, and when you
complete all of that, it takes you to a results page that shows you how
many people so far have clicked on that. So you can see how many
others in Eugene are doing what you are doing.
Once you have done that,
you can go back to the Mayor's challenge and you say "Yep, I'm
ready, sign me up", click "I Commit", and now you've sent
an E-mail message to the staff who are collecting all this data.
And you say "Yeah, I heard about it at First Christian Church,
where the pastor so inspired me, that I signed up for this effort J".
And that's the Mayor's
Climate Challenge, and how we can participate and be part of that, and
to share collectively in that effort.
Will it make a
difference? Who's lives are we really saving?
Last summer, Maureen and
Scott Russell went to Peru, and brought back pictures that they shared
with many of us at one of our dessert functions:
I think that's Scott in
the red cap with Maureen behind him, saying "This is the last time
I let you make travel arrangements!".
One of the stories that
they brought back was of the glaciers that produce all of the water for
the people of this region in the Andes, above the sacred valley there in
Thousands of people,
dependent solely on the water from those glaciers, that's their only
water source. Experts say that within the lifetime of this child,
if nothing changes, those glaciers will all disappear. So think
about that. There is a very real sense that the life we save by
reducing our carbon dioxide emissions may be this one.
Jesus says to us "Do
you love me? Tend my sheep".
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