Sermons That Work

Today Is Earth Day…, Easter 4 (B) – 1997

April 20, 1997

Today is Earth Day. [Christ is Risen! Still. Easter is such a momentous joy that it takes us fifty day to unwrap and enjoy its gift. Besides being the fourth Sunday in Easter, today we also prepare to celebrate Earth Day tomorrow. Our readings point to this Easter joy, but also to the gift that is the Earth, and especially to our relationship with it as Christians.]

Resurrection is an earthy thing, scandalously earthy. One of the most potent images of resurrection takes place on television as we watch the public burial of a political prisoner in a Latin American country during the six o clock news. The martyr’s body, tortured to death, is carried by the crowd in a tumultuous procession through downtown streets. Occasionally, a voice shouts the martyr’s name. “Comrade so-and so!” “PRESENT!” everyone shouts, as if to say, you may have killed him, but now he is us.

Now he is us. No wonder then that four weeks ago, as [Names of the newly baptized] stood before us all glistening with oil in their white garments after their baptism and anointing, — no wonder the priest shouted “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” — IS risen, not WAS risen, risen now in Name and Name (recently baptized) and all who have died with him and been raised with him to new life.

If we ask those who were baptized last Easter why they did it, why they became Christians, or if we ask the same question of those who renewed the Baptismal Covenant for the first time in a long while, we may get different answers. The fact is, Christ, the martyr, the witness, died for as many reasons as there are people. But if you listen closely to the reasons, if we humbly tell each other why we follow this man and shout “Present!” when someone asks “where is Jesus of Nazareth now?” the answer will be ultimately very simple: “he showed me that God loves me.” Didn’t just say so; he did so. He walked his talk, all the way to death.

Historically, the death of Jesus may have been caused by his rather violent acting up against the Temple merchants. You may think it inappropriate to bring up the image of the angry Jesus, raging at the money changers in the context of the Good Shepherd. But the Good Shepard is also the Tough Shepherd. The Shepherd is not just all kindness and gentleness — yes, his yoke is easy because it is the news that all sins are forgiven, but his lifestyle, his insistence is accepting even the most degraded and avoided people in his society, while making him gentle to them, made him tough to others. Not everyone wanted to hear his motto: “your sins are forgiven…”

For if the sins of everyone are forgiven, then there is no need for temple sacrifice and therefore no need for cattle and sellers and money changers. Without sacrifice, there was also no need for priest and Levites — or for the Temple, for that matter. A simple phrase of Jesus, like “your sins are forgiven” threatened the destruction of the whole social, economic and political edifice of his time. The forgiveness of sins was the exact opposite of what everyone was banking on: money could be made cleansing you from your sins; distinction and social status could be bought through ritual. Sins and sinners were a social and economic necessity for that economy.

The Tough Shepherd loved the sheep enough to restore their dignity to them by ignoring the rules about who belonged where. Patterns of belonging or exclusion based on concepts like ritual purity, patterns separating the acceptable, proper folk from untouchable scapegoats. But these scapegoats who could not afford even two turtle doves to sacrifice at the temple and therefore could not be forgiven, and therefore were social outcasts, and therefore, starved in the shadows of life — for them, the Lord set a table in full view of their enemies, anointed them with oil like royal guests, and filled their cups to overflowing. And he did this catering feat by dying like a common criminal. By becoming the scapegoat himself, he exposed, once for all, the scapegoat mechanism of society. He become despised, so that the despised of the world may be revealed as honorable.

And so at Easter we shout, when they ask us, “where is he now?” we shout, “He is risen!” Right here! But it is not only the leprous, the crippled, poor, tax collectors, prostitutes and eunuchs who shout “He is Risen!” The whole creation shouts. The Earth herself, taken for granted for millennia of abuse, shouts, “You may have killed him but now he is ME! I will not die!” She shouts, “I will not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord!” She shouts in an orgy of pollen and mating rituals and spring fever. The planet refuses to die its winter death to acid rain, polluted rivers, mercury in the water, refuses to be gashed in strip mining and refuses to yield its rain forests to the arthritic desperate grasp of human greed. You and I are its refusal. You and I are its resurrection, its hope of life.

For the Earth knows, better than most of us, she knows where she comes from, even though she is enslaved. She has been enslaved with increasing hardship in recent centuries, but at the dawn of the Christian era she was already enslaved. Listen to how Paul describes her:

“The entire creation is waiting with eager anticipation for the revelation of the children of God. …Up to now…the whole creation in all its parts has been groaning inwardly while we look ahead to our liberation from death.” (Romans 8:19-22)

Four weeks ago, Name & Name [Name the recently baptized] were revealed as God’s own offspring, they came out of the water and received the Spirit of Jesus, the same Spirit that makes him and us call “Father” to the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars. A Spirit declaring loud and clear, with the roar of thunder, that we are God’s own, in whom God is well pleased. And if we are open to it, the same Spirit, will drive us, like Jesus, to the wilderness, to confront the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. Not because these powers live out in the wild, but because they live deep down in our hearts, unheard in the din of our daily lives. And there, in the wilderness of their own hearts, we discover that rocks and streams, stars and forests are brothers and sisters to us — and more. We discover that when someone who has felled the last stand of virgin redwood; when they ask, “Where is the clean river now?” When they call the names of extinct species one by one, we will find our voice and shout “PRESENT! You may have killed them but now you have to deal with us!”

For Christ is risen, and with him is being raised the whole creation too, awakened from the sleep of death by a new tune in the mouths of the children of God, brothers and sisters of valley, glen, ocean and stream. Amen!

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Christopher Sikkema


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