Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 20, 2024
Delivered by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Southborough, MA

John 10:11-18

Following the Good Shepherd on Earth Day

Friends, it’s been a joy to spend the day together, to celebrate the pilot phase of An Episcopal Path to Creation Justice, to learn from each other, and to feast on the wisdom of some of our generation’s most visionary thinkers.1 And isn’t it fitting that we end the day in worship! Worship is at the heart of everything we do.

Saying that reminds me of an afternoon ten years ago when I had just started my job as Missioner for Creation Care in the Diocese of Western Mass. There was so much we needed to figure out, like: What kind of Creation care webpages do we need to build? What material should they include? Should we start a monthly newsletter? Creating a diocesan ministry around Creation care was all so new, and we were making it up as we went along.

So, what did I do? I headed straight for Vicki Ix, our diocesan Canon for Communication, so that we could have a good long talk and do some brainstorming. That’s where we came up with the framework for Creation care that we’ve been using in our diocese ever since – Pray, Learn, Act, and Advocate. It’s the framework behind An Episcopal Path to Creation Justice, and it’s one that several other dioceses around the Church have begun to pick up, too. I like this framing because it’s so comprehensive, making it clear that a full-bodied, wholehearted, clear-eyed response to our Gospel calling to love God and neighbor commits us to keep learning, to keep acting, to keep advocating, and – yes – to keep praying.

With the Rev. Rachel Field, Project Manager of An Episcopal Path to Creation Justice
You’ll notice that in the sequence – Pray, Learn, Act, and Advocate – we put Pray first. We could have lined the words up alphabetically, so they begin with Act, but to me it was important to begin with Pray. Prayer is at the heart of everything we do. I think of that wonderful prayer for guidance in our prayerbook, the one where we ask God to direct us in all our doings so that “in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name” (For Guidance, 832). Prayer comes first, before we do a thing. Prayer comes in the middle, in the very midst and heat of action. Prayer comes at the end, as we let go and put the results in God’s hands.

Today our prayers take place on the weekend before Earth Day and the weekend in Easter when we celebrate Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Scripture gives us many ways to imagine Jesus. In the Gospel of John, for instance, Jesus names himself as “the bread of life” (6:35), “the light of the world” (8:12), “the door” (10:7), “the true vine” (15:1).  Each image has its own resonance and meaning, but Jesus as “the good shepherd” is the image that many of us treasure most.

I am grateful that this year Earth Sunday coincides with Good Shepherd Sunday, for I need to be drawn again into Jesus’ consoling and empowering presence. Maybe you do, too. As we take stock of the living world around us and consider the faltering health of our planet, we recognize that the path our society has traveled for the last two centuries has led to an unprecedented human emergency: we are hurtling toward climate catastrophe and watching the web of life unravel before our eyes. Great populations of creatures – even entire species – have vanished in less than 50 years. In what scientists call a “biological annihilation,” human beings have wiped out more than half the world’s creatures since 1970. Meanwhile, the relentless burning of fossil fuels and the logging of forests are accelerating climate change, pushing our planet to break records of all kinds. Last year was the world’s warmest year on record, by far.

Linked to these ecological challenges are the social justice challenges of economic inequity and white racism. Racial justice is so closely tied to climate justice that I’ve heard it said that we wouldn’t have climate change without white supremacy. Where would we put our urban oilfields, our dumping grounds and trash, our biomass plants and toxic incinerators – if we weren’t willing to sacrifice Black, indigenous, and people-of-color communities? The Sierra Club’s Director of Organizational Transformation, Hop Hopkins, has pointed out that, “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can't have disposable people without racism.”2

In a world of so much injustice, violence, and uncertainty, where do we turn for guidance, solace, and strength? We turn to the Good Shepherd of our souls. How does his presence speak to you today? One thing I notice is that, as our good shepherd, Jesus holds everyone and everything together. A shepherd is the person charged with keeping the flock intact, united, and heading in the right direction. I find it reassuring to contemplate the image of God in Christ drawing us into something unified and whole, because right now so much seem to be splintering and breaking apart. The tapestry of life that was once intact is being torn apart as greenhouse gas emissions disrupt the planet’s atmosphere. Our human communities are likewise being torn apart by political division, economic division, racial division.

But when we turn to the Good Shepherd, we touch the sacred unity within and beyond all things. We touch the Ground of our being. We meet the One through whom all things were made, in whom all things hold together, and toward whom all things converge (Colossians 1:16-17). At a time when so much seems to be divided and falling apart, we’re invited to sense the underlying wholeness and unity of all things and to sense the love that embraces all things, connects all things, sustains all things. On the surface, in the realm of our five senses, we may notice only differences, only what separates us from each other, but in the deep center of reality we meet the good shepherd who is holding everything together and luring us into communion with each other and with God.

We hear the shepherd’s voice when we take time to quiet ourselves in prayer, to sit in solitude and silence and listen to the inner voice of love that is always sounding in our hearts. The good shepherd is the one who knows us through and through and who calls us each by name. Held in the embrace of that intimate love, we don’t have to keep trying to hold ourselves together – we are free to let go, free to fall apart, free to let ourselves feel our grief, feel our anger and fear as we respond to the climate crisis and to all the challenges of our lives. The good shepherd is there to hold what we cannot hold by ourselves, there to listen, there to protect and keep company, there to help us understand how deeply we are loved – and not just we ourselves, but all people – and not just all people, but all beings, the whole of God’s creation.

That very personal experience of being loved keeps getting larger! The circle of love keeps expanding! As Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16-17). It’s as if, beneath all the ways that human beings try to separate ourselves from each other and from the rest of the natural world, presuming that we can dominate and destroy with impunity – Jesus keeps calling us forward into one living, sacred whole.

One of our three speakers, Robin Wall Kimmerer, gave a moving presentation about what it means to live in harmony with and to restore the land.
We belong together for we are all kin. Our Good Shepherd created, redeems, and sustains the whole Creation, and that’s why we’re using such expansive prayers today – prayers that seek to honor the sacredness of the whole living world that is so lit up with the presence of God. We may be praying inside a building today, but our prayers are joining the prayers that are already going on outside, uttered in the wind and sunshine and by the birds and trees! Our voices are joining the voices of all Creation as we give thanks to God for loving us into being.

When we tap into that deep-down truth of our basic belovedness, we discover fresh energy for life. We experience the same wave of Easter hope that filled the first followers of Jesus. When they saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, when they met the Risen Christ in their midst and in their hearts, when they realized that life and not death would have the last word and that nothing could separate them from the love of God, their lives were charged with fresh meaning and purpose. They realized that they belonged to a sacred mystery that was larger than themselves, to a love that would never let them go. Sure – they were still mortal and frail, still vulnerable and imperfect people in a big, chaotic world, but they knew that they participated in a long story of salvation to which they could contribute, every moment of their lives, by choosing compassion over indifference, kindness over cruelty, love over fear. Their inner liberation gave them courage to resist the forces of death and destruction, and to obey God rather than any human authority (Acts 5:29). Indeed, the first Christians got into all kinds of trouble. Peter and the other early Christians were accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), for their devotion to the Good Shepherd apparently led many of them to spend as much time inside as outside the walls of a jail. Their witness to a transcendent, all-embracing Love shook the foundations of their society.

That same wave of Easter hope fills Christians today and carries us now, every one of us who feels impelled to join our Creator in re-weaving the web of life, in building a gentler and more just society, and in getting us into what Representative John Lewis called “good trouble” as we fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to dismantle white supremacy. In a moment we will be nourished at this table as we share in Christ’s body and blood, and then we’ll hold a simple ceremony of commissioning as we bless each other on our way. On this Easter-Earth-Day weekend, we give thanks for the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us, and we renew our resolve to be a blessing to the Earth that God entrusted to our care.



1. At our Earth Day conference we heard from Robin Wall Kimmerer, Bill McKibben, and Mary Evelyn Tucker.

2. Hop Hopkins, “Racism Is Killing the Planet” The ideology of white supremacy leads the way toward disposable people and a disposable natural world, June 8, 2020,