Pentecost 17B, 2006
A Liturgy is also available
AT THE HEART OF THE UNIVERSE IS...
The story line seems simple enough.
“The earth is in an intricately balanced equilibrium of temperature, ocean currents and weather patterns, and this equilibrium is being distorted. Massive disruption is going to occur without major corrective measures” (Paul Sheehan, SMH 2006).
The ‘story line’... is the story line in the Al Gore film, ‘An inconvenient truth’.
The film is about human-induced global warming.
But it is also about one man, Al Gore,
former Vice President of the USA, indeed the candidate
George W Bush, um... ‘defeated’ for the top job in 2000.
And his passion to tell the world about an issue which goes
to the very core of who we are, as a species.
This is an important film and all of us should see it.
Support for this film and its moral message is very strong from commentators:
“Whether you are convinced by what you see or not, every other subject is trivial by comparison” (Paul Sheehan, SMH 2006).
“You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times 2006).
But some don’t get it.
Despite the scientific research used to support the thesis of the film
there are those who are sceptical.
They claim no matter what we do, global warming is “inevitable”
and instead of thinking we can prevent it or slow it, we should
“start figuring out how we’re going to adapt” (Cairncross, Globe & Mail 2006).
Such thinking results in a paralysing negativity,
especially in the world of global-warming politics,
because it makes the problem appear insolvable.
Planet Earth’s story is important and all of us should hear it.
The event seemed simple enough.
The ‘event’... is the return of Pope Benedict xvi to the German University of Regensburg,
where he was a theology professor in the 1970s.
During his speech to academics he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor
who regarded some of the prophet Muhammad's teachings as:
"evil and inhuman" (Phillip Coorey, SMH 2006).
While his speech quite rightly condemned religious violence,
his biased words implied that only Islamic fundamentalists
had ever been guilty of religious atrocities.
The Islamic world reacted angrily.
Despite a personal and public apology from Benedict during the week,
protests continued in the Muslim world,
especially in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Iraq.
This is not the first time this pope has caused anger and resentment.
At his election in 2005 former Catholic theologian Matthew Fox said
this was the election of the “first Grand Inquisitor as Pope” (Fox 2005).
While Brasilian theologian Leonardo Boff said Ratzinger (now Benedict xvi) was
“a hard man and without compassion,” and he feared that while Pope
“an immense hell of hypocrisy will reign in the Church”.
These may seem harsh statements.
But they go to the heart of an out-of-date church
and challenge an authoritarian clergy.
These are important issues and all of us should reflect on them.
The occasion seemed straight forward enough.
The ‘occasion’... is another story line unpacked by the teller we call Mark.
An itinerant sage with a group of disciples walking
from one place to another, listening and talking.
In a poor, peasant, agrarian society such an occasion was perfectly natural.
However these disciples were caught up in other issues, preferring
to think about prestige and rank in their community,
and figuring out how they were going to bring it about.
But Mark’s story line is also about the sage Jesus.
And his passion of inviting others to re-imagine their world:
to enlarge their picture God to include all of humanity, and
to enlarge their feelings of self to include the neighbour.
So in a symbolic act Jesus took a young street child,
set the child in front of everyone so they could see,
and put his arms around her.
To understand the power of Jesus’ symbolic action
we should not think of children simply as loving and innocent.
At the time of Jesus children were ‘non-persons’ (John Donahue. American web site 2006).
Where a child was a nobody unless its father accepted it.
Where it was commonplace and legal for children
to be 'exposed' in the gutter or rubbish dump, to die,
or to be taken by someone who wished to rear a slave.
Contrary to the disciples’ desire for positions of power and importance,
Jesus is suggesting, it seems to me, they should be more concerned
with honouring into their midst the poor and vulnerable.
Reimagining their world by enlarging their feelings of self to include the neighbour...
What a radical way to ignore or push the social boundaries of his society!
What a way to ‘get up the nose’ of those who exercised power
to value themselves over others!
In acts of caring for vulnerable human beings we come face to face with the divine.
This is an important story and everyone should hear it.
As a result of the rise of Western-style democracies, free-market economies,
and modern science and technology in the last couple of hundred years or so,
many of us enjoy an increased material prosperity.
But this is a two-sided coin.
At the same time as all this has been happening some are beginning to recognise
that this modern ‘material prosperity’ is:
harming other creatures,
diminishing the functions of ecosystems,
altering our global climate patterns (Peters 2002).
Australian New Testament scholar William Loader suggests:
“Human beings have mostly attributed value to those who have power. At some levels that has been physical power... It is equally about having wealth, political power, family power... They are saying such people are of greatest value” (Wm Loader web site 2006).
While others challenge us with penetrating comments:
“It is often said that a society’s moral strength is measured by how humanely it deals with the most vulnerable individuals living within its domain. Yet here in Australia over the last half dozen years, a lack of moral fortitude, compassion and understanding of divergent cultures and peoples has given rise to a quite frenzied almost hysterical reaction [especially] to our asylum seekers...” (Justice Enfield).
Never before in the history of the world have so many known about so much.
The new age dawning is an age of increasing scientific unity.
Our living must be set in the context of the larger life we call the universe.
Life’s choices are ours to make.
Once we have heard the cry of the planet,
or our neighbour’s cultural or religious pain,
or the most vulnerable in our society,
we do need to make a choice about what we will do.
Does the spirit of compassion and inclusiveness at the heart of Jesus’ life...
Does the mutual care of a community of faith...
make a difference when we make those decisions? (Jerry Stinson. First Church web site 2006).
Peters, K. 2002. Dancing with the sacred. Evolution, ecology and God. PA: Harrisburg. Trinity Press International.