This is the fourth Sunday of Easter, a season in which new life springs into being.
It is also Earth Day ( a few days ago), so we remember the earth, our home, and how magnificent it is, full of beautiful things, yet fragile and hurting, suffering from exhaustion.
Today's scripture suggests how important the earth is and how it is intricately involved in our relationship with God. With that, I want to highlight three points that I find in the reading of today's scripture, both from Psalm 23 and the first Epistle of John chapter 3. Since we are in the Easter season of resurrection, I want to suggest that the resurrection is about reawakening to the following understandings:
1. That we live in the presence of a God who provides abundantly.
2. That we live in the presence of a God who penetrates and relates with the natural world.
3. That we live in the presence of a God who lures us into loving action.
1. We live in the presence of a God who provides abundantly.
Considering this Psalm in the original Hebrew, the first line is translated, "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing." Think of this promise, the Lord is MY shepherd. I lack nothing, or I want for nothing. I can think of at least 10 things right now that I don't have, that I either need or want. Can you? I have 'wanted' my whole life, I have craved, coveted, dreamed, wished for, pleaded, begged, worked hard for, and even stolen things that I wanted (yes, stolen). All of it based on an overwhelming desire to have what I did not have, convinced that I needed it. I studied some Buddhism in college and remember that The Buddha said we suffer (dukkah) because we want...we grasp for things...we cling...and this in turn causes us to suffer. The Buddha wasn't saying we shouldn't have things, he was merely commenting on our mind set towards things. We want the lush life. We want peace. We want to do the right thing.
We grasp and come up short. We suffer after the very things we want. We are consumed by what we lack instead of recognizing and being grateful for what we have. We are driven to get more instead of content with having enough. The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. Do we really believe this? There is so much want in our culture. We are told over and over again that we need more, that we won't be happy until we have that special thing. So we scratch and claw for that one more thing, yet there is always something else we want. God has given us what we need; green fields, still waters, rest, nature, and all the elements that nourish my soul. However, our want seeks to destroy what we really need. Our want turns to greed and in turn creates an imbalance in the world, creating more and more need. A world dominated by scarcity where there is no equal access to food, water, and shelter.
2. We live in the presence of a God who penetrates and relates with the natural world.
In this morning's Psalm, the shepherd takes us on a journey, making us lie down in 'lush, abundant pastures,' leading us beside still, quiet waters, places that are meant to provide nourishment and restoration for our soul (our very being). God is present in all, and all of these places suggest images that invoke the notion of rest, comfort, abundance, necessity, security, satisfaction, etc. I could interpret these as figurative symbols if it were not for the fact that images of nature hold literal meaning for me. I draw tremendous comfort from these natural places; the beach, the desert, the mountains, meadows, and lakes. What natural places bring rest to you? What natural places in our own neighborhoods bring rest? Remembering the opening chapters in Genesis, God places humanity in the center of the garden, in direct relationship with nature, and commands that humankind take care of it. The natural world is our responsibility. The natural world is our sacred environment, where we are provided for in abundance. To abuse it, is to offend our relationship with God. We have forgotten the earth as sacred and have turned it into a commodity. This environmental imbalance causes tremendous need in the world, where poverty and starvation, and lack of access to clean water exist. These are Dark Valleys of Death for much of the world's population. Yet, even here God is present. God is in all, even in the midst of environmental degradation, and in the midst of scarcity, God is present, leading us to greener pastures, cleaner waters, urging us to do the right, take take care.
3. We live in the presence of a God who calls us into loving action.
"We know love by this, that Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide if we see a brother or sister in need and yet refuse to help? Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." (1 John 3)
For all the things we want, we live in a world where there exists a tremendous amount of need. God says we lack for nothing, yet there is obviously tremendous need, even in our own community, in our own lives. We need food, clean water, clean air, a healthy planet, jobs, money, clothing, shelter, rest, etc., etc. Yet we lack. Perhaps we do so, not because God hasn't provided but because we have wanted more than our fair share. Driven by greed, our want leads us to take, leaving others with nothing. God's abundant Kin-dom is thrown off kilter. And with this, we have forgotten that we lack for nothing. Somewhere along the line we lost trust in this and took matters into our own hands. We plundered and hoarded, we began to tell ourselves that only the fittest would survive, that we had to get what was ours or someone else would take it. We told ourselves that the earth provided endless resources, and that these resources were there for the taking. That the strongest and smartest had access to an endless supply, that those who had the ingenuity to harness it, would grow rich beyond their wildest dreams. And with this, we left many others to fend for themselves, calling them weak, unfit, and lazy. This too is a Dark Valley of Death.
We live in the presence of a God who continuously lures us to a life of resurrection and reawakening, a cycle of life that leads us through lush pastures, still waters, dark valleys, and restoration. A God who has prepared an abundant table set before us in the sight of even our enemies. When we awake to this, remember this, and live into this promise, we are living into the building of God's Kin-dom on earth. When we trust in this abundance, when we live and serve in loving action, God's abundant Kin-dom is brought back into alignment, into balance, into a Kin-dom where all of God's creation, both human and non-human, lack for nothing.
Pastor Stephen Patten
From the Mountain is a 'cyber sanctuary' where sermons and other musings are posted for the general consumption of a larger community. Feel free to reflect on them as you wish. You are welcome to leave comments below with thoughts, insights, and/or questions.