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Psalm 19:1-5
Psalm 23
John 10:11-15

        Long before there was an Earth Day; way, way, way before there was a common understanding of climate—much less, climate change or the climate crisis—human existence was dependent upon creation.

        In fact, you might say that humanity’s disconnection from creation is, in the grand scheme of things, a very recent development.

        People who lived during the time when psalms were written, people who walked the Earth with Jesus of Nazareth, and saints who built the church—not as an institution, but as a community of Jesus followers trying to love one another—did not think of creation, the Earth, the climate, as something separate from themselves.

        Creation, existence, survival, the Holy, the blessing, the challenge—it was all of a piece for them. Long before they had Holy Writ, they had the love, grace, and power of God written across the skies, made manifest in spring rains, made delectable in everything from olives to pomegranates,  wheat, and dates.

        Creation was, for them, the first and best testament to the love, grace, and steadfast presence of God. Maybe, on their best days, they also understood themselves as creatures. They understood that they had a God-given responsibility to nurture and protect all of creation. They didn’t really think about the environment, per se; it was a part of them.

        Creation was not a commodity; it was a gift, a sacred trust.

        Creation was not something to be used and abused by humanity; creation and creatures lived in a state of inter-dependence. This was the blessed reality—on the micro level as well as the macro.

        A shepherd, for example, didn’t view sheep as things created to serve human needs; a good shepherd understood that sheep and humans needed each other. In a wild and dangerous world, the sheep needed the shepherd for protection, guidance, and sustenance. Without a shepherd, sheep were vulnerable to wolves, mountain lions, and other predators, and in dry years and seasons they might starve to death. A shepherd provided for the sheep.

        The shepherd and the shepherd’s family and broader community, meanwhile, needed sheep for food, clothing, warmth, income, and, perhaps, a sense of purpose and companionship. The sheep provided for the shepherd.

        Sheep were nothing without a shepherd, and a community’s existence was made far more precarious without a shepherd who protected and provided for the sheep.

        It’s remarkable to me that, absent this essential understanding of what a shepherd represented to the ancient Hebrews and the people of Jesus’s day, the 23rd Psalm nevertheless speaks to us on a primal level.

        Absent a common language and through thousands of years of evolutionary and technological development, we—humankind, that is—are, apparently, still hard-wired for some level of dependence.

        We’re unlikely to call it that, of course—we, whose culture worships the idols of independence and individualism.

        We who live in the age of toxic positivity and the requisite can-do spirit are more likely to call it comfort.

As in “I’m in the mood for some comfort food.” As in, “I’m just gonna let my body love what it loves.” As in, “It’s not that I really need mashed potatoes with gravy followed by apple pie a la mode, but I’m going to indulge just this once.”

        Comfort gets a bad rap. And yet we are hard-wired—or at least Spirit-wiredto need some comfort on occasion. We are created to need our Creator; we are made, like sheep, to need a shepherd.

        Which is one of the reasons why, I think, many of us respond to the 23rd Psalm at such a visceral level: We long to know that we are cared for. In a world full of suffering and pain, in lives marked by uncertainty, endings, and loss, our heart of hearts knows—even if our minds can’t admit it—that we need comfort, that we need someone to walk the way with us, to guide us, and sustain us.

        The 23rd Psalm assures us that we have such a shepherd. The 23rd Psalm tells us that as sure as we are hard-wired for dependence and comfort, the universe is hard-wired to provide us with all that we need, and the God who is Love created us and all things for love. The 23rd Psalm reminds us that there is no greater comfort than knowing that Love is with us—even though.

        And that’s why I’m not going to bombard you with a laundry list of the scariest climate crisis statistics. That’s why I’m not going to go on about melting ice sheets, dying coral reefs, extreme weather events, and the evils of certain industries and credit-card companies. That’s also why I’m not going to perseverate about all the ways we should be taking action.

        Not that all of that is not important. Not that is not of vital, existential importance to our children and grandchildren and all creation. Not that tomorrow isn’t Earth Day.

        But I’m pretty sure we all know that. I’m pretty sure we’ve all made changes to our lifestyles in an effort to walk more lightly on the Earth. I’m pretty sure most of us are somewhat anxious and afraid about all that is at stake.

        Yet sheep being threatened by a pack of wolves do not need to be riled up to the point of panic, cardiac arrest, and death. What they need is a shepherd who will guide them to safety. What they need is a shepherd—or, better yet, a whole flock of shepherds—who will remain calm even as they  take decisive, protective action, shepherds who love the sheep so much that they will lay down their lives if that’s what it takes for the sheep to survive and know life abundant.

        What they need—what we need—is a shepherd who realizes that what we need more than anything is permission—no, make that a command—to just lie down. What we need, and what we need to realize that we need, is someone to lead us, someone to be with us, someone to prepare a feast for us when we’re too tired or lonely or depressed to even think about eating, someone to pour so much love, goodness, hope, and care into us that our cup overflows. Someone who will remind us that goodness and mercy are always available, and that God is always home and waiting for us when we get tired of wandering and work up the nerve to knock on heaven’s door.

        What we need is to trust that:

        Even though the climate news is overwhelming, I need not fear, for you are with me.

        Even though the world’s violence and inhumanity breaks my heart and tempts me to despair, I need not fear, for you are with me.

        Even though my body and mind are failing and I’m not sure what’s going to happen, I need not fear, for you are with me.

        Even though I don’t know where I’m going, I need not fear, for you are with me.

        Even though I am overcome with grief and find it hard to carry on, I need not fear, for you are with me.

        Even though I forget you, ignore my neighbors, and despoil the earth, I need not fear judgment or rejection, for your love and grace are with me.

It’s not that there isn’t any evil, that the Earth isn’t in crisis, or that life isn’t hard or scary or filled with uncertainty, unfairness and suffering. But we are not alone in it.

        For you are with me, the psalmist says to God.

        Because you are with me, I need not fear death.

        Because you are with me, I can face my deepest pain.

        Because you are with me, I can have that difficult conversation.

        Because you are with me, I need never be ashamed of who I am.

        Because you are with me, I can stop trying to earn my salvation or deserve another’s love.

        Because you are with me, I can do the scary thing.

        Because you are with me, I need not be enslaved by my past.

        Because you are with me, I can know healing and wholeness.

        Because you are with me, I can lie down and rest.

        Because you are with me, I can count on having all I need.

        Because you are with me, I can celebrate the feast you set before me every day.

        Because you are with me, I can stop running and striving, hurrying and worrying.

        Because you are with me, I can let goodness and mercy actually catch me.

        Because you are with me, I can love others.

        Because you are with me, I can know the peace that passes understanding.

        Beloveds, God is with us—now and always. Love is with us. Holy comfort is available, and there is no shame in needing or wanting it. Surely peace and mercy and goodness are pursuing us even now, and we will dwell in the heart of God now and forever.