Year B; 4 Easter; Good Shepherd and Earth Day; 4.22.2018
I moved to Maine near the end of October in 2013. Peak leaf color had passed and the evenings were chilly. There were hints of Maine winters everywhere. At the time I didn’t understand how to read these hints. Take the fire hydrants. I noticed that on every fire hydrant, there was a very tall slender, flexible stick attached to it that went vertically up, up, up. The stick was topped with bright red. I thought to myself, “Surely, the snow doesn’t come that high. It’s there for another reason.”
And I noticed my neighbor’s large woodpiles. They stretched from front yard to backyard. I thought to myself, “How quaint that wood stoves are so common. But what’s with all that wood?”
By April of that year, I got my answers: Winters in Maine are harsh, snowy, cold and LONG! I went that entire winter until April never once meeting the people who lived in my block. It seemed that no one came out of their homes during the winter.
But by the spring thaw, people started emerging into their yards. I began to meet them one-by-one as I swept sand from my front walk or they dug around in their gardens. I learned that in the winter, no one seemed to want to venture out to chat with neighbors. But in April, there was a hunger to get outside and connect with humanity.
Today, we are celebrating two important rituals that fall on the same day this year: Earth Day and Good Shepherd Sunday. These two observances don’t always fall on the same day. But today they do and I’m glad.
I’m glad because celebrating Earth Day gives us the opportunity to gather strength around our commitment to “the care of our Common Home,” as Pope Francis calls it. That is the title of his papal encyclical on caring for God’s creation.
“Care of our Common Home.” It’s simple, really. All we have to do is to read the pope’s document and follow his instructions. If we just follow his instructions, we can not only begin to restore our soiled “island home” to its created beauty. We will also treat each other with care, particularly those who are poor and stand to lose the most due to climate extremes.
For Christians, today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The familiar metaphor describes Jesus as a shepherd. He calls us each by name. He calls each of us into his orbit of “goodness and mercy all the days of our lives.”
There is an intimacy that emerges with the description of the good shepherd, particularly when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me.”
To be fully known – that, I believe is the deepest desire of every human being.
That is my desire with my neighbors – to enjoy some degree of being fully known. Slowly, my neighbors and I are beginning to know each other. Last spring while I was sweeping my walk, my neighbor who is a professor and composer came over to say hello. He shared with me that he was composing a version of the “Star Spangled Banner” that included musical motifs from a variety of cultures found in America.
For example, he wrote one verse in a Mexican musical style. For another verse he wrote an African-American Spiritual motif. He himself is from immigrant parents. I shared my enthusiasm for what he was doing and I exclaimed, “Lord have mercy!” This is an expression I picked up living in the South. He took my “Lord have mercy” literally and said, “Oh! Well, I’m not religious at all.”
I guess his not being religious could have been a barrier between us. Instead, our connection has only grown deeper as we share meals at each other’s homes, share snow removal equipment, and enjoy conversations with his children.
Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me.” One bible commentary calls these words of Jesus “…the fruit of an ‘experience;’ a personal contact; when it matures, it is love.”
The St. Paul’s Living Local Guiding Team has been together for 18 months or so. They’ve been initiating conversations, sharing stories, learning to listen deeply to friends, neighbors and parishioners. You could say that this process of Living Local listening and connecting is now beginning to bear fruit. Relationships are beginning to mature. Some members of the Living Local Guiding Team have shared with me that even their relationship with God has deepened.
The members of the Living Local Guiding Team have worked with me to design a brief activity this morning. It is an invitation to share with another person right here and right now, a story of a time when you had a very good conversation with someone in your neighborhood, your school, your workplace or community. How did it affect you, change you?
Now, in order to get you to find a conversation partner you don’t know very well, I’m going to ask you to “Please stand” as if you were going “To Pass the Peace.” Find someone behind you, or in front of you. Invite this person to be your conversation-mate. Introduce yourself and then share a story of a good conversation you’ve had with a neighbor or someone in your community that affected you or changed you. Each take two minutes. I’ll keep time.
Now, please stand, find your conversation-mate and enjoy a fruitful conversation.