Caring in God’s Way
1 John 3:16-24
For most of us, the metaphor of shepherd is pretty remote. Itâ€™s not part of our urban western ethos, though its meaning in Jesusâ€™ times was profound.Â Â As I prepared for today I began to wonder, what it might mean for us to listen to theÂ sacred Source/ to the shepherdâ€™s voice today? What would Godâ€™s Spirit evoke through us if we really listened?Â â€¦.And then coming at it from a different direction, what would it mean for us to be Good Shepherds of Godâ€™s way in our times, as Jesus was in his? How do we care in Godâ€™s Way?
Iâ€™m so glad that Beryl shared her experience of Cedar Parkâ€™s support to her family.Â It seems that we already know a little bit about shepherding in this congregation.Â When our community is able to offer that kind of support, I believe we are indeed being good shepherds.Â Â There are so many ways in which this congregation cares in Godâ€™s wayâ€¦inviting outsiders into the fold,Â creating caring community, working for justice, proclaiming hope, creating a place for spiritual growth and healing, And we celebrate all of that, and much more. I really like Henri Nouewenâ€™s quote from our reflection today.
â€œCommunity is first and foremost a gift of the Holy Spirit, not built upon mutual compatibility, shared affection, or common interests but upon having received the same divine breath, having been given a heart set aflame by the same divine fire, and having been embraced by the same divine love.â€ Important words as we continue to grow and deepen in our understanding of Christian community.
Today our kids will be our shepherds as they challenge us to an eco footprint event in which we listen to our lives and our behaviours, and hear where Godâ€™s voice through creation might be calling us to care for creation.Â
Rather than dealing with shepherds 1st Century style, Iâ€™d like to share with you one story of a person who I believe, cares in Godâ€™s way, andÂ embodies one path ofÂ being a good shepherd in our times.
Wangari Maathai is a Kenyan woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for planting trees.Â Planting trees for fuel, food and timber is not what one usually associates with winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Yet with that simple act, Wangari Maathai helped spark a movement to reclaim Kenyaâ€™s land from a century of deforestation while providing new sources of livelihood to rural communities.
She studied in the U.S. during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. In 1966 she returned to the newly independent Kenya. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph.D. (in veterinary anatomy) and the first female professor at the University of Nairobi.
Doing research in the field Wangari listened deeply to the lives of the women she met.Â She said:
Â “Many women in rural areas said they were concerned about firewood, which was the main source of energy. They were concerned about water; there wasnâ€™t adequate clean drinking water. They were concerned about nutritious food, and they were concerned about poverty, especially among women.
Â I immediately suggested that perhaps what we should do with these women is to plant trees. I saw the connection between land degradation and lack of water.”
And the Green Belt Movement began in 1977. a grassroots organization which mobilized thousands of rural women and families to plant trees in community groups to repair their environment But it also ended up challenging a corrupt, oppressive government.
Â Wangari says: I found myself not just a woman wanting to plant trees to provide food and firewood. I found myself a woman fighting for justice, a woman fighting for equity. I started planting trees and found myself in the forefront of fighting for the restoration of democracy in my country.â€
The first aim of the movement was to reclaim Kenyaâ€™s land from a century of deforestation and provide new sources of livelihood for rural communities. Maathai soon found that tree planting had a ripple effect of empowering change. In the mid-1980s, Kenya was under the repressive regime of Daniel arap Moi, whose dictatorship outlawed group gatherings and the right of association. But, in tending their nurseries, women had a legitimate reason to gather, and become involved in resolving their communities’ challenges.
Wangari says “The more I looked into the environment, and the more I looked into the problems that people were complaining about, especially women, the more I understood that what we were complaining about were the symptoms. And that we needed to understand the causes of those symptoms. Why did we deforest our country?”
As they began to discuss the roots of their problems, they soon found themselves working against deforestation, poverty, ignorance, privileged economic interests, and government corruption. They became a national political force that helped to end the countryâ€™s 24-year dictatorship in 2002. Their protests and demonstrations often provoked militant police response, but the women persisted and the movement grew.
â€œIt is the people who must save the environment,â€ Maathai said. â€œIt is the people who must make their leaders change. So we must stand up for what we believe in. And we cannot be intimidated.â€ She was imprisoned for her work and her comment on that isÂ
“Prison humbles you because itâ€™s deliberately humiliating. But you get out of there ready to fight your battle till the end. If I had never gone to prison, maybe I would not have been as persistent, as patient as I became.”
Wangari Maathaiâ€™s work canâ€™t be pigeonholed. Instead of viewing poverty, debt, human rights, social justice, environmentalism and womenâ€™s rights as isolated issues, Maathai has deftly addressed their connectivity and the relationships between them. Examining symptoms and root causes is how Maathai has succeeded in taking a seemingly simple idea, like tree planting, and has used it to fight larger, underlying problems.
The Green Belt Movementâ€™s traditional community development programs through tree-planting have continued to expand across Kenya and their work has now expanded to work on a major national campaign to preserve all the wetlands in Kenya.
Green Belt Movement also continues to plant trees with the military, and the program has been very successful. Soldiers are starting their own tree nurseries in military camps, holding environmental education seminars and planting thousands of trees to help reforest Kenya.
During the post-election violence and ethnic clashes in 2007-2008, Green Belt MovementÂ mobilized communities in conflict to come together peacefully through dialogue in what is called â€œPeace Tent Initiative,â€ which continues.
There are many ways to be good shepherds in our 21st century- to care in Godâ€™s way.Â Caring for the wounded earth is surely one of them. Building communities of love and justice is another.Â God bless Wangari Maathai and others like her, who care for creation and work for justice and peace in our timesâ€¦surely they are shepherding Godâ€™s way in our times.
In our gospel, Jesus is speaking to Pharisees who are chastising him for healing a man born blind.Â He uses the metaphor of the â€œ good shepherdâ€ to illustrate his mission among the people of God.Â Â This metaphor is used for God in other scripture, notably the Psalm we heard sung today.Â Â Jesus is claiming to be doing Godâ€™s workÂ Â
1 John 3:16-24Â In this letter, the writer challenges love to be not just words but actions.