A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019
We mark today as a celebration for the rogation days. In our received tradition, this celebration has come to mark the beginning of the planting season, a blessing for crops and plants, for prosperity and protection. There is much more to this celebration and observance and maybe one day we will have the ability to explore this observance even deeper, but even as it stands in our observance today we make a point of communing with creation in a very intentional and tangible manner. And through this communing we offer prayers, prayers for fruitful seasons, for commerce and industry, for the stewardship of creation. In these prayers, we will call on God to help us remember that “we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you,” that we, and all who benefit from the industries and commerce of this world, may be “responsive to your will,” with a “pride in what we do,” receiving a “just return for our labor,” while remembering ourselves that one day we will be called to give “the account” for our actions and stewardship of all of the creation that is at our fingertips.
In observing rogation days, even as a simple observance of church outside in the creation and a couple of special prayers specific to this observance, we are called to look within and see how the observance today, the prayers we will offer, the gospel we have heard today, inform our understanding of what it is we are called to do for this creation, this beloved creation of God, as faithful stewards, as beloved creation ourselves who are called to see this same identity in all of the creation around us.
Feed my lambs.
Tend my sheep.
Feed my sheep.
In this third resurrection appearance of Christ, there is a charge to Simon Peter, and through the tradition and history of the church, to us, to care in a specific and intentional manner for a particular piece of creation. Christ, the Good Shepherd, cares for the sheep under his care, even as he prepares to ascend and take his seat at the right hand of the Father, he wants to insure that it is understood that as the movement is built up following him, that it is not forgotten that ultimately the call is to feed lambs, tend and feed sheep.
There are three different but connected calls to ministry in these instructions by Christ. The question of love by Christ to Peter is as much as a chance for redemption following Peter’s same thrice denial of Christ, as it is a point of emphasis that the following of Christ that is to come is foundationally built upon the relationship of love that Christ has taught, and in that love, it must be shown through the following acts. Each piece of what Christ instructs Peter to do is part of a whole. But without each part, we cannot live into the full mission and life of Christ. Without each piece of this call to stewardship and care, we will not fully live into the life that has been left for us, the call to a life that will challenge and push us to see all of creation as beloved, from the most fragile lambs to the most self-assured sheep.
Two things are abundantly clear about the state of our climate reality right now: if we do nothing to change our ways, to wake up and realize we are literally burning down creation around us, then (1) our children will not have the bountiful beauty of creation to call their home for long if at all, and (2) those who will be hit hardest, first (even feeling the effects already) are the poor and disenfranchised (which are disproportionately people of color and Native peoples). These are the most vulnerable members of creation. They don’t have the mobility and stability, economically, politically, to enact change on their own. They can speak out, lobby, hold to the fire, those in power and authority, but ultimately they do not have the power themselves to enact real change, and all the while find themselves as the most vulnerable, focusing first on survival before they can turn their attention to activism.
If we are called to feed the lambs, to feed the most vulnerable who cannot fend for themselves, we have to make sure that there is creation around to feed them. We have to make sure that their lives are not placed in peril because we have sacrificed their place in creation for our own profits and comforts. In being called to feed the lambs, we have to see the most vulnerable and understand that it is our duty as the shepherd to ensure they have every chance to live, to grow, to find a place in this world where they can blossom and prosper with the rest of creation.
In order to access the lambs to feed, to care, to provide every opportunity to receive a just return for their labor, we have to tend the sheep of this world. We tend the sheep through education, through recognition, through tending the flock as a whole and having the whole realize that if even one goes astray, they will be sought after day and night and brought back into the fold. We cannot leave anyone behind. We cannot leave any to suffer, to be lost. We cannot condemn any for life decisions they have made, through their own faults or through no fault of their own. We cannot abandon the addict. We cannot abandon the criminal. We cannot abandon the lost, hurting, grieving, broken, because they are beloved, because we are beloved with them, because they are not an other, they are us if we caught the same bad breaks or made the same misguided decisions. Just because we haven’t does not make us better or smarter or more successful through our own doing. We, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, Lord, may always give you the glory, and in so doing, reach out and tend the sheep, tend the flock, so that we hold each other accountable to the first task before us in caring for the most vulnerable among us, for feeding the lambs. We tend the sheep by being accountable to each other. By helping each other connect to the understanding that our life of faith is about sharing the Good News, of teaching that Good News to each other and sharing it with the world. In tending the sheep we practice God’s grace to one another, we enable the sharing of God’s grace to be shared with the lambs of the world because we have experienced it so fully in our relationships with God and with each other.
It is one thing to share God’s grace with the most vulnerable, to share it with those who we know we must share it with, it is an entirely other thing to also share the grace with each other, to share that grace with the elected official who leaves us pulling our hair out more often than not, to share that grace with the rich in our community, in our world, who are continually distancing themselves from the rest of creation through a barrier of obscene wealth that can only be brought down through grace.
Ultimately, through these acts we are finally called to feed the sheep. To draw all back to this table to be fed by the power and presence of Christ in this world. To be brought together as one community to worship, to seek grace, to understand love, to know deeply forgiveness, to be filled spiritually and physically through the the communal meal we share with one another. I start every service inviting all whom God has called to eat at the table to join us here in this place at this time. Because we have to feed and we have to allow all to be fed. It is in this reality that I begin every Sunday. It is this reality that drives my understanding of what I do each week in celebrating the Eucharist. That at this table the sheep of the flock are fed. And that the sheep are so numerous and spread across the whole of creation that I will never know them all by name, but that’s ok because the shepherd knows them all, calls them all by name to this table, to be fed once more, by God, by Christ, by the community that envelopes them with the love of God that is experienced through our worship together.
This is ultimately our call as the stewards of creation then: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. And, we pray to God, today especially, that we will take the grace and love and forgiveness and Good News of the resurrected Christ, and live into this call, now and always.