Pentecost 25C, 2007
A Liturgy is also available
CHALLENGING THE POWERFUL VOICE OF FEAR
It seems it is no longer appropriate for one to hold, or live by,
a theological position or vision in the Uniting Church.
Unless of course, it is the mushy neo-evangelical middle!
At least that’s the conclusion I draw from much of the reaction
I have received from several colleagues, to the ABC TV ‘Compass’ program
on the Uniting Church, last Sunday evening.
Which is rather sad, really.
Because this mushy-middle is not only frightened, it has flattened and made one-dimensional,
the role of both theologian and prophet, in the life of the church.
But this morning’s story from the prophet Isaiah will have none of that.
Instead, through the use of vivid picture language, Isaiah offers
a vision, or states a position, which reminds us
“of the ideals for which we hope and for which we believe God strives. The ‘new heavens’ and ‘new earth’ the prophet foresees signify the possibilities for human society when we open ourselves to God’s transforming power” (RPregeant ,P&F web site, 2007).
New heavens. New earth. Possibilities for human society, now.
I agree with those commentators who suggest this is a most appropriate passage
as we come to the end of the Christian year,
(and in Australia, just before yet another election!)
Listen to how one group of Australian biblical scholars reflect on this passage.
“All that has prevented creation from being what God intended will be removed. The disasters we see in the world about us every day are not what will determine the future of God’s creation. Neither terrorist activity nor the exercise of military power will hold sway in God’s order of things. Political deception will have no place, nor will abuse within the family or workplace. The selfish exploitation and neglect of nature will be recognised… This is what the writer(s) of Isaiah 65 looks toward. They look not just to the making new of the physical world, as to the renewing of the relationships and interconnections within the world which maintain life in its physical, spiritual, social and other dimensions. That is the Christian hope” (HWallace et al. web site, 2007).
New heavens. New earth. Possibilities for human society, now.
Those of you who were here last Sunday may remember
we touched on some so-called 'apocalyptic' talk
as a basis for human transformation rather than ‘end-of-the-world’ stuff.
I also suggested something was required of us when we encounter this talk:
(i) read and study the biblical stories seriously, not literally, and
(ii) know that we, even if only in a small way, are called upon
to participate in the transformation of the world.
Now a so-called 'apocalyptic' echo is again heard in this week’s passage.
But again it is about reimaginging rather than end-of-world stuff.
So let me share one or two ways others have sought to re-imagine the world,
through human transformation.
During the week I received a copy of a social action announcement,
from the Ecumenical News International.
And though it's about British supermarket practices,
from what I hear on Australian current affairs programs,
I imagine it is applicable here too.
A Church of England bishop has warned that the big supermarket chains in Britain
are putting farming livelihoods at risk by forcing down prices through their buying power.
"The business practices of the major food retailers have placed considerable stress on the farming community through the use of methods which we believe to be unfair and of which consumers seem to be unaware," said Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter.
He was speaking at the launch of a report, ‘Fairtrade begins at home: Supermarkets and the effect on British farming livelihoods’
written by two members of the church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group.
Know that we, even if only in a small way, are called upon
to participate in the transformation – reimagining - of the world.
Second, Michael Lerner, a progressive Jewish Rabbi in America,
has written a powerful book called The Left Hand of God.
In the book Lerner challenges both the political ‘right’ and the political ‘left’
to re-imagine the way society is organised by presenting what he calls a new
“spiritual vision… a whole different level of discourse, not something narrowly instrumental that is basically about winning an election”
(Lerner 2006:5, 18).
So he sets out what he calls a ‘Spiritual Covenant with America’.
“We invite our fellow Americans”, he writes, “to join us in building a society based on (a) new bottom line” (Lerner 2006:229).
Eight areas or issues are covered by the Covenant, and they include:
(i) families, (ii) personal responsibility, (iii) social responsibility, (iv) values-based education, (v) health care, (vi) environmental stewardship, (vii) building a safer world, and finally (viii) the separation of church and state and science.
I don’t have time to go into any details of Lerner’s Covenant other than
to offer some words from his Conclusion, because I reckon they can
ring bells in our Australian context as well:
“There is an enormous spiritual hunger in America. It is a yearning for a new way to think and a new way to live. We have been trapped into thinking that fulfillment comes from achieving material success. But as the globalized economy makes accessible more and more material goods at prices that can be afforded, and more Americans have more commodities - more computers, cell phones, DVDs, cars, boats, televisions, and other gadgets - than anyone else on earth, we find ourselves reaching for something else, something that cannot be satisfied by a new purchase. We want meaning to our lives…”
And then he puts the two images of Right Hand and Left Hand of God, into context:
“The Right Hand of God is embraced by the powerful… [and] used to provide legitimacy to an American empire and a competitive and unjust economic marketplace… The Left Hand of God emphasizes the need to build a world based on love, kindness, compassion, generosity, mutual cooperation, recognition of the spirit of God in every other human being and an awareness of our interdependence with others… (Lerner 2006:358).
Throughout history, as well as within each of us, we can find elements
in our life experiences that identify with the vision of the Right Hand of God.
And similarly, there are also signs in both our individual and society lives
that come under the influence of the vision of the Left Hand of God.
It has been suggested that when social energy flows more toward hope,
we find ourselves supporting policies that are more generous,
more oriented toward establishing peace and justice.
On the other hand, when social energy flows more toward fear,
we find ourselves supporting policies that seek to dominate others,
and to build institutions based on the assumption
there is not enough in the way of material goods to go around (Lerner 2006:358-59).
The good news is: the world can be re-imagined; can be transformed.
Our role in all this? To challenge the powerful voice of fear.
Be it in the church or in society in general.
And to bear witness to the reality and the ramifications of the vision
of Isaiah and Michael Langrish and Michael Lerner and others.
Lerner, M. 2006. The Left Hand of God. Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. New York. HarperCollins.