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Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

As some of you know, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year of the three-year lectionary, (the schedule of readings for Sundays and other holy days) the readings tell of God/Jesus as Good Shepherd. And they always include Psalm 23, one of the most well known and beloved readings in the Bible. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want, who makes me lie down in green pastures; who leads me beside still waters; who restores my soul…” as we sang a few moments ago. And in the gospel for today, Jesus makes the radical claim, “I am the Good Shepherd,” recalling from Hebrew scriptures the identity of the Good Shepherd as God. God/Jesus are the Good Shepherd. And this gospel reading goes on to express what this means, that the Good Shepherd lays down their life for the sheep. In contrast to a hired hand who does not care, the Good Shepherd knows the sheep and they know the Shepherd, who lays down their life for the sheep, including sheep that do not belong to this fold, that all would be one. The Good Shepherd lays down their life, and takes it up again of their own accord, because Jesus knows God/the Good Shepherd, and God knows Jesus/the Good Shepherd as one. Happy Good Shepherd Sunday.

           And tomorrow is Earth Day. A day for environmental action that began on April 22, 1970, as an initiative of US Senator Gaylord Nelson and student activist Denis Hayes. First envisioned as a student movement across campuses in the United States, that first Earth Day was embraced by over 20 million Americans across the country and established the modern environmental movement. And subsequently grew each decade to include more and more environmental organizations and people from across the world. And today, according to their website, is recognized as the largest recruiter to the environmental movement in the world, involving over 1 billion people and partnering with over 150,000 organizations in 192 countries in a common mission “to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide.”

This year’s Earth Day focus is “planet vs. plastics.” The website,, reads: “Planet vs Plastics, unites students, parents, businesses, governments, churches, unions, individuals, and NGOs in an unwavering commitment to call for the end of plastics for the sake of human and planetary health, demanding a 60% reduction in the production of plastics by 2040 and an ultimate goal of building a plastic-free future for generations to come.” The invitation to Earth Day 2024 is, “Join us to honour and celebrate our remarkable planet on this extraordinary day. Earth Day is a reminder of the importance of environmental conservation and sustainability, encouraging us to come together and take action for a healthier planet and brighter future.” And as some of the posters simply say, “Earth Day Everyday.” A quick search of local events included a Saanich Earth Day Festival, yesterday, and smaller events in other municipalities, free bus service tomorrow across Victoria, and other initiatives identifying individual actions to educate, volunteer, visit a garden, pass on gently used items, eat vegan, care for neighbours and all living things. Happy Earth Day 2024!

And I wondered, as the sentence in the worship folder states, about a sacred connection between Good Shepherd Sunday and Earth Day in this Easter Season.

The agrarian image of God/Jesus as Good Shepherd connects to the earth and its creatures. That it endures as beloved for so many, is not for most because of a close connection to sheep or other domesticated animals or their herding or care. But we understand something of this metaphor even without direct experience. And much has been said in sermons about sheep and their behaviours and the need for a shepherd and protection and the connection to the ways of humanity in relationship to God and one another. But maybe today could be less about the metaphor, and simply instead appreciating this image of God/Jesus as good and faithful shepherds of animals, creatures of God in need of care and protection. And Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life for these creatures of God’s concern. Is that telling enough of God, of Jesus and their unconditional love for all creatures and all creation, including, but not exclusively for us as human beings?

In our anthropocentric minds and ways, we jump quickly to the conclusion, it is about me/us. And no doubt Jesus was first speaking to those around him, including and especially those who were vulnerable, suffering, in need of protection and promising them and us the Good Shepherd’s loving care. But can we imagine in our time, the Spirit saying to us, it is also about the animals, the creatures and all creation, not part of the human fold, who know Jesus’ voice, and for whom Jesus is willing to lay down his life, and take it up again, of his own accord, in unity with God’s loving command, for the saving of all creation, increasingly broken and harmed by human self-centredness and self interests destroying the earth and the health and wellbeing of our neighbours, including all God’s creatures and all living things. God/Jesus the Good Shepherd, laying down their life for the earth and all its creatures in unconditional love for and unity with all creation. Is this an Earth Day to honour and celebrate together, every Sunday, every day.

The reading from first John for this Sunday begins with the proclamation. “We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us…” And these words follow, “- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 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? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” These important words both assure us that we know God’s unconditional love in Jesus who as the Good Shepherd lays down his life for all, and! of our God given purpose, like the Good Shepherd, to love and lay down our lives for our siblings in need. To give of ourselves, of our worldly goods, to sacrifice, for the sake and wellbeing of our neighbours, including all the earth’s creatures and the whole planet, for the care and protection of all creation. Little children, let us love unconditionally like this, not in word or speech, but truth and action, laying down our lives for the whole earth. That’s a Good Shepherd Sunday, and Earth Day worth honouring with our whole lives laid down everyday.

For Peter and John in our continuing reading from Acts, this love and laying down their lives began with the offer of healing in Jesus’ name for a lame man lying at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Holding Peter’s hand, he stands up and 

leaps in praise of God. As religious authorities hear of this, and of Peter’s proclamation, they arrest and imprison them, and the following day ask them by what authority they have done and said this. And Peter’s response as before is, this healing is in the name of Jesus of Nazareth who laid down his life for all, whom God raised from the dead, and who is now the chief cornerstone of salvation that God has built in Jesus’ name. Peter and John, like the Good Shepherd, lay down their lives, for the love and healing of one person in need who now leaps for joy, and for the love and saving of all and all God’s creation. This is the life of the Good Shepherd to which we are called, like the first disciples, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Good Shepherd, in unconditional love laying down his life and taking it up again, for all, and all creation, that we also in love, in the Spirit of the Good Shepherd, lay down our lives for neighbours, all creatures, the whole earth, that together we stand and leap in praise of God, the Good and loving Shepherd of all creation.

Maybe Earth Day tomorrow, or this Good Shepherd/Earth Sunday, in keeping with the theme, Planet vs. Plastics, begins a new relationship between us and plastic, reducing and maybe ending their all-pervasive use in our grocery shopping, our clothing, consumption of so many products, educating ourselves about their negative impact and lessening our participation in this harming of the earth. Or maybe it is joining tomorrow in a photograph at 12 noon at the legislature in support of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders and calling on the BC Government to drop all changes against them for defending their traditional lands against destruction for increased oil production and distribution and connected to the making of plastics. These, or any other action in love of neighbour and the earth, are expressions of laying down our lives for God, for the earth, for our neighbours, including all creatures and all creation, in the loving Spirit of the Good Shepherd of all. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.