1 John 4:7-21 & John 15: 1-8
“The Love of Christ Poured Out Upon All Creation”

“The Love of Christ Poured Out Upon All Creation”

1 John 4:7-21 & John 15: 1-8 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ April 21, 2024


Why does the church get involved in Earth Day? As you know, Earth Day was first observed a little over 50 years ago. On April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million people attended inaugural events in North America. Tens of thousands of sites including elementary schools and secondary schools, universities and community sites called upon people to fight for environmental causes and oppose environmental degradation. But, why does the church get involved in Earth day? Over the last half century, Earth Day celebrations have grown across 141 countries and include well over 200 million people. But why does the church get involved in Earth day?


One who describes this better than many is the eco-theologian Sally McFague whom I had the honour of study under during my seminary years. In her book The Body of God, Dr. McFague explains that the mystery of the incarnation extends beyond just Jesus but to the entire world. The incarnation is the understanding of God’s presence being with us on earth in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. What Dr. McFague urges us to consider is the God’s presence is with us on earth through all Creation. God is incarnated in the world. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves: God is the breath or spirit which gives life to the billions of bodies that make us God’s body. God is in the living, breathing Creation which we behold: animals, trees…every living aspect of Creation is an extension of God’s body. So, why does the church get involved in Earth day? The church gets involved because all parts of Creation are extensions of God’s living body…sacred, blessed, presence of God around us.


Postmodern science is now telling us that the universe is an interrelated whole. All things ~ living and non-living ~ are interrelated and interdependent. This, of course, is not news to Indigenous communities and for others who rely upon the land for their survival. However, as we became postindustrial, urbanized people, we increasingly alienated ourselves from the body of the earth which is a sacred extension of God. The church’s involvement in Earth day is an important movement back to finding God amidst Creation! In the incarnation, we see God fully revealed in the person and witness of Jesus Christ. In Creation, we continue to see God present and alive!


In the scripture readings, we find Dr. Fague’s exploration of the Body of God in Creation informative to our understanding of the texts. In the first letter of John, we come across this beautiful expression of love. Indeed, the centrality of love pervades the entire letter. The particular form of love being written about, here, is the Greek word agape. Agape is an expression of love that gives without expecting in return. It is the sacrificial love that is expressed in Jesus: Jesus’ servant ministry; Jesus’ care and compassion; Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. The letter tells us that we cannot see God; however, we can see what God is doing in Jesus Christ.


God’s presence is further realized when we are part of a community that acts in love. Some of us stand at the foot of the cross. Yet, it is not enough for us to just remember Jesus’ self-sacrifice, to merely think about it, or even be moved by it. The text challenges us to live it. To know the love of God is to live the love of God. As the text puts it “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen…those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”


And from this text, and many others like it in scripture, we find Jesus’ teaching of ‘The Golden Rule’: loving our neighbours as ourselves. The commandment of love to all our neighbours; the commandment of love that Jesus will expand beyond family, beyond neighbour, even to enemy. As we ponder the calling we receive on this Earth day, I wonder if the calling to love expands even beyond loving others to loving Creation? Could it be that, as we ponder the commandment of love that we are called to agape / love towards Creation…God’s self-revelation in the world?


The was some of the thinking behind the changing of vision statement just two years ago. You will recall that our original vision was ‘embracing the community with the love of Christ’. And this was the lens through which we viewed our various ministries. How is the love of Christ being poured out upon the community: inside our wall and outside? And in 2022, we reviewed our vision and mission statements with the significant change from ‘the community’ to ‘all of Creation’. Our vision is ‘embracing all of Creation with the love of Christ.’ We have enacted this shift in many ways: some large and some small. In this building we have banned the use of non-recyclable containers (such as Styrofoam). We now compost, recycle and our footprint is significantly smaller than it once was. As we move ahead with the replacement of our heating / cooling unit for this sanctuary, environmental considerations are part of the discussion. I look into the parking lot and note an increase in energy efficient vehicles and (sometimes) there are even some bikes that take people to church! Why is the church participating in Earth Day? We participate because it is part of our mandate to living the way of agape / love.


The second reading comes from the gospel writing John. As students of the gospel, we note the many times that Jesus uses the “I am” metaphors to describe how he is a reflection of God. The parable of the vine “I am the vine” is the final of the many “I am” sayings. Jesus has described himself as “the light”, “the door”, “the shepherd”, “the life”, “the way”, “the truth”, and in the final metaphor, he teaches “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower”. It is this wonderful connection naming the source of life ~ “my Father is the vine-grower”, and the continuing expression of God in Jesus ~ “I am the true vine”.


This passage, like the reading in 1 John, counters any modern idea of the sovereign individual. The church is not isolated; we are not separated; all flow back through the vine to the source of life. As if we could ever be an inward or self-contained reality. We all connect back to the source of life.


There is some wonderful gardening wisdom contained in these few brief verses. In the vineyard, the best grapes are the ones that are produced close to the central vine. This is understandable, of course, because this is where the nutrients are most concentrated. As the branches expand outward, the nutrients are less plentiful and the flavour less pronounced. Jesus teaches that “[God] removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more.”


I wonder if, in this wonderful metaphor, is a deep challenge for us to move closer to Christ in our faith? Sometimes, the things we spend so much of our day to day lives upon do not help us deepen our faith. It is fine, of course, to have fun and distractions. However, we “binge” on TV series and lose the balance of what is important and meaningful…and what brings us closer to Christ. It becomes time to get closer to the true vine. Sometimes this is the essence of fasting (giving up special items of food or other pleasures). Sometimes, we need to get closer to the true vine in order to bear good fruit in our living.


Jesus continues to teach “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” The Greek word for abide is meno. Meno is about “staying in place, enduring, or holding out.” We get closer to the true vine as we meno through our spiritual practices as we simplify our lives. And as we gather on Earth Sunday, we get closer to the vine by agape / loving God’s Creation around us. Honouring God’s creation around us. Caring for God’s Creation around us. Does the church have a place for Earth Day celebrations? Indeed, it does in the many ways we express our awe, stewardship, and love of Creation…The love of Christ poured out upon all.