Easter 4 – Sunday 22nd April 2018

Easter 4.  22 April, 2018

Hilfield Friary

Br. Clark Berge, SSF

There is an interesting mission imperative in this good Shepherd Sunday gospel: to defend against wolves and to expand the definition of “flock” so that it embraces “others.” To protect and include. This imperative is for all of us. We are to protect the fragile understanding of Christian life (truth, peace, love of God and neighbour, following the example of Jesus Christ; these are enduring values and commitments, but always need reaffirming), and expand it to include as many as possible. Today being Earth Day, it is important that we think of our approach to the earth in the same way—to protect and include; protect the environment and include all species in our care. None are expendable. Every living thing has its place.

Jesus’ care for his flock, and the yet-to-be-included flock of the future, is founded on self-sacrifice. He says that the Good Shepherd is willing to lay down his life. There seem to be a lot of people willing to lay down their lives in the world today., but not all of them are good. There are some who offer themselves to the military to protect their country. Parents for their children. There are riveting examples of those who gave their lives for others in the Nazi concentration camps so that another might live—like Maximilian Kolbe did. Last week we woke to the news that David Buckel, a prominent US human rights lawyer had died after setting himself on fire in a New York park in protest against climate change.  Human rights and care for the environment are inextricably bound together as his action demonstrates. But what he did fills me with grief. There has to be another way to call the leaders and peoples of the world to account for what is happening to the environment.

We also have examples of those who offer their lives for the Caliphate, for Boko Haram, for White supremacist groups. So it is not just self-sacrifice that is required. There are other qualifications. These violent groups seem to be about control, world domination, and based on fear of others, enemies. Their violence and use of terror is a disqualification to my way of thinking.

The self-sacrificing Good Shepherd rejects violence against others, shepherding his flock through attraction to his example and teachings, intimate knowledge and understanding of his flock and a sincere desire to extend his reach so that the “us and them” disappears. I am not even sure he would kill the wolf.

The Franciscan tradition offers us a midrash or story that makes a comment about wolves. We celebrate Francis as the “Alter Christus”–so closely identified with Christ that his actions reveal the love of Christ. You know the story. Confronted by a fearful town (Gubbio), cowering behind walls because of a threatening wolf, Francis the Good Shepherd, went out to protect and defend his flock. He met the wolf then included him in his embrace. Francis made it his friend. Calling it to repentance, precisely: to turn around and live differently, the story says Francis made an agreement with the wolf and took it to the towns people. They welcomed the wolf and cared for it, recognizing it preyed on their flocks out of hunger. The docile wolf lived among them as a reminder of the Christ-like vision and understanding of Francis. The Good Shepherd does not run away. The Good Shepherd does not resort to violence. The Good shepherd defends and includes.

What Francis’s example gives to the Jesus tradition is the possibility of redemption for everyone. It is a recalling of the prophecy of Isaiah that the wolf and the lamb will lie down together.

It is at this point that I want to stop and acknowledge, and to mourn the death of David. Can you imagine the frustration he must have felt? The anger at the systematic predations of the wolves in the USA inhabiting the Environmental protection Agency who are dismantling decades of protection and laws, to advance oil drilling, coal mining and worse, lining the pockets of billionaires? Obviously, he felt there was no way to befriend the wolf. But notice he didn’t grab a gun and start shooting the varmints. If I had been there I wouldn’t have let him torch himself either. I didn’t know him, but I believe his life, every human life is a precious thing.

What are the choices we have as shepherds in this mad, divided world? Is it possible to befriend the thoroughly corrupt masters who run the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Government? Maybe, maybe not. I wouldn’t want to insist on a literal imitation of Francis’ example. But you can organize large groups of people to bring political pressure. You can befriend the miners and oil drillers. Campaign for a guaranteed national income. . .just to be a little provocative here. You can make carbon-based fuel technologies obsolete by supporting alternative renewable energy. We need to offer support and friendship to all those who have similar goals. Don’t worry about agreeing in every particular. Work for the common good.

I love our Leaf, our biomass boiler. I am a whole-hearted proponent of repairing, recycling, reusing. Carpooling. Drying my clothes on a rack instead of a tumble dryer. Eating simpler food—natural, organic, sustainable if not totally vegetarian. Thank God I travel much less than before, and that I never took a private jet. People adopt these strategies in order to protect the common good and include others in the embrace of life. If I use less, there is more for others. If my country uses less, there is more for other countries. Of course, you know the world produces enough food to feed every single human being—and more to come! Only we lack the political will, we lack the sense of the common good. In aggregate, as Western nations,  some could say that we belong to the hired hands group. That is why places like this are so very important. We are the burr under the saddle blanket of complacency. We can show others a full and happy life lived on a much simpler scale than the seductive propaganda of our culture.

Change comes one person at a time, one transformed consciousness. The Christian tools we have for animating a new awareness are the sacraments, those wonderful and sacred mysteries that get inside you, make you think. We have our practice of contemplation, worship and common prayers. Kneeling beside all sorts of people and opening our hearts to the love of God, then sharing in fellowship, conversation, pastoral care, searching and honest study and reflection. These are so very important—easily underestimated I think. Let us love, as John writes in his letter this morning, in truth and action. These are some of the ways we come to see the world differently, to recognize the impact and claims of others on us—other people, other species.

Never underestimate the impact of one person’s example.  Of YOUR example. Never under estimate the capacity of every human being to love, care, give, share. With impoverished vision and understanding we lapse into binary thinking, divide and conquer, winners and losers. Aided by grace, we can see with the inner vision of faith and see God in others, we perforce become inclusive. Thinking of the impact of one person, we are still talking about St. Francis. We are still trying to find comparable ways of living into the promise of the Good Shepherd to protect and include.