Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Earth Day (observed)
Text: Acts 6:1-7, 1 Peter 2:4-9, John 14:1-12
Delivered at St. Joseph's Church
Good morning! This coming Tuesday is Earth Day, and so I’ll talk about three things in relation to that and to today’s readings: reverence, mindfulness, and humility.
First, on reverence. Today, we hear Jesus say “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,”1 and that we are to come to the Father through him. John also talks about going through Jesus in another place: at the beginning of his Gospel, he says of Jesus, the Word made flesh,2 “Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him. All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.”3 As we go through Christ to the Father, we are sanctified and made pure; so too is all of creation, having been created through Christ, also sacred, and an inspiration for wonder and joy. In Genesis, we read that we are called to “fill the Earth and conquer it, [and] be masters of the fish in the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the Earth,”4 but we are to cherish it as stewards, not despoil it as tyrants. All creation is useful to us, but it is to God’s glory that it exists, and not to ours; it is not for us to take from the sacred body of the universe anything which does not glorify God. Pope John Paul II related this specifically to the ecology and the environment when he wrote that “Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray.”5 When we act with reverence for the dignity of all that is created, we follow Peter’s admonition to “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light,”6 and claim our place as God’s trusted servants.
Next, on mindfulness. This is a principle well-expressed in the words of the poet George Herbert, who wrote, “Teach me, my God and King,/ In all things Thee to see,/ And what I do in any thing/ To do it as for Thee.”7 It is not only in great matters, but also in small ones, that we serve God’s glory. The details of equitable distribution of food in a particular community may seem trivial, but they were not beneath the notice of the Apostles. By addressing the matter efficiently and fairly, they helped the community live as a model of the community of God’s Kingdom, and drew others to join them.8 In the same way, we too are to take into account details and act righteously, both because of the direct material consequences of our actions, and because of the witness this gives to the universality and generosity of God’s love. This is, of course, difficult and demanding: every choice we make becomes an intentional, moral action, from the traditional realm of the Ten Commandments down to such minute actions as saving water by turning off a tap while brushing one’s teeth. Much of what we can do for each other and for our world is made up of small things which are as drops of rain; these drops come together to make the mighty rivers of the promised great works. This mindfulness is our best praise to God, who says that “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”9
Third, on humility. As we become more aware of the complexity and interconnectedness of the Earth, and the inertia of our entrenched social structures and economic systems, we realize the truth of Jesus’ saying that “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few.”10 There is simply too much for any of us to do! The Apostles realized this, and quickly called upon the first resort of competent managers everywhere: delegate! Jesus finished his saying with the words, “so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest,” and that is what the Twelve did, with good results. In like manner, we can entrust others with the authority and the resources to act on our behalf; this is most obvious in our political votes and in our contributions to dedicated organizations, but we can also be mindful to do this in more subtle ways, for example through our purchases and through our encouragement of each other. Even acting in concert, however, our human strength is not enough. Jesus says that we will do our greatest works because he is going to the Father,11 implying that it is from the Father and through Jesus that we draw strength to do these things; if we work without God, we will exhaust ourselves and accomplish little. Pope Benedict writes, “There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord.”12 It is through Christ that we go to his Father, and through Christ that God works in us; we do nothing on our own. We can take to heart Christ’s words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”13 When we confront the many challenges of the world, let us not despair, but put our faith and trust in God’s transforming love.
Having talked about reverence, mindfulness and humility, I’ll read a short poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins to sum up: “God’s Grandeur.”
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil,
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And bears man's smudge, and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights from the black west went
Oh, morning at the brown brink eastwards springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast, and with, ah, bright wings.14
1: John 14:6
2: John 1:14
3: John 1:3-5
4: Genesis 1:28
5: Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 37.
6: 1 Peter 2:9
7: George Herbert, “The Elixer.” Reprinted in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn (New York: The Modern Library, 2006), p. 299.
8: Acts 6:2-3, 7
9: Matthew 25:40
10: Matthew 9:38
11: John 14:12
12: Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 35.
13: John 14:1
14: Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur” Reprinted in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn (New York: The Modern Library, 2006), p. 301.