As calm and content or as confused and confounded as you and I are within our lives the machinations of the world go on around us and seek to draw us in.
The headline on the front page of yesterday’s Courier Mail is one such example of scare mongering. It was the words: “War on our way of life”.
At the risk of sounding possibly a little controversial for some of you and a little blasé to other s I would have to say there is nothing new here for us.
“War on our way of life?”
The war of our way of life has been there since Adam and Eve first took a bite from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Our lives have been out of sync with God’s intentions for us and we as humanity and the whole creation so often suffer the consequences of our selfishness and inability to accept difference.
There is nothing new here.
This is not to denude in anyway the seriousness of the claims being made about those who would seek to do violence within the community, misguided and driven as they are by narrow minded interpretations of their faith. There can be no doubting that terrorists are criminals who should be opposed.
Yet, the threat of Islamist extremists can simply be added to the litany of Christian, atheist, and other sectarian violence that has plagued our journey as humanity.
Moreover, the threat to our way of life is not simply from out there somewhere but from within as well.
The war on our way of life is not simply from a small group of terrorists it is embedded in every culture, in every corner of the creation where humanity has forgotten the centrality of God and the way we were created to live in harmony with all that God has made as good.
Yesterday I was reading the words of the playwright, poet and philosopher Vaclav Havel the first democratically elected President of the Czech Republic. I want to share what he said, it is a rather long quote from his speech to the US Congress in February of 1990.
Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our Being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed, whether it be ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable. If we are no longer threatened by world war or by the danger that the absurd mountains of accumulated nuclear weapons might blow up the world, this does not mean that we have definitively won. We are in fact far from definite victory.
We are still a long way from that "family of man;" in fact, we seem to be receding from the ideal rather than drawing closer to it. Interests of all kinds: personal, selfish, state, national, group and, if you like, company interests still considerably outweigh genuinely common and global interests.
We are still under the sway of the destructive and thoroughly vain belief that man is the pinnacle of creation, and not just a part of it, and that therefore everything is permitted. There are still many who say they are concerned not for themselves but for the cause, while they are demonstrably out for themselves and not for the cause at all.
We are still destroying the planet that was entrusted to us, and its environment. We still close our eyes to the growing social, ethnic and cultural conflicts in the world. From time to time we say that the anonymous megamachinery we have created for ourselves no longer serves us but rather has enslaved us, yet we still fail to do anything about it.
No, there is nothing new here.
Ironically, the war on our way of life is wage by the way life we think we are protecting!
Jesus very presence in the world is a clear and resounding declaration about this war that is constantly being raged around us and even more importantly is being raged within us.
Each week as I preach and lead worship I declare to you in a myriad of ways that we are all implicated in this war against our creator whether we perceive it or not.
Paul as he wrote so long ago to the Christians in Rome was acutely aware of this – people don’t know how to agree. People find it hard to follow God.
This is why Jesus taught Peter to forgive seventy seven times, which essentially means forgive again and again and again and when you are sick of forgiving and it seems to be costing too much don’t stop forgiving.
Today you have come here maybe hoping that there will be a word of inspiration or an encounter with the divine that will help you to do what Jesus teaches – to learnt to forgive, to learn to live with differences, to be touched by love and transformed by grace.
In the small burgeoning group of followers in Rome they could not agree on things. Some of those things seemed big and some of them seemed small yet all were a source of consternation:
Welcome the weak in faith and the strong?
Eat this food or don’t eat it?
Meet on this day or honour all days?
But whatever you do put God at the centre.
Yesterday a group of us came to do the simple yet quite large task of clearing objects out of the hall in preparation for the refurbishment. Even this process can lead us into disagreement:
Put the shelves here or over there.
We should keep this object, no we should discard it.
Small matters yet reflective of our differences.
Yet here in the working out of the small issues we learn to be human as God intended. We learn to accept others are different, that others have different views, different priorities and different values.
Not easy stuff but a reminder the war on our way of life has been interrupted and redirected.
Paul writes these confounding yet hopeful words:
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
These words are often used at funeral as a source of hope. This week there were 3 significant funeral s which I would have liked to attend – I only made it to one and yes these words were read out. In death we are the Lord’s because Jesus is Lord of the living and the dead.
Yet on this day as we consider the war that we have wage since the beginning of creation on the way of life that God invites us I would remind you all that not only is Jesus Lord of the dead he is the Lord of the living.
How we live matters? Not because Jesus is going to judge us but precisely because Jesus has taught us that God’s primary approach to us is love which is expressed in the act of forgiveness.
This is why Paul goes on to ask:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
It is so, so hard not to judge one another, not to highlight the differences, not to point out the perceived weaknesses in the faith of others. This is why that every congregation experiences struggles, this why Christianity has shattered into the shards of so many churches and denominations.
For me we can never be overly optimistic about our ability to do God’s will and we must always maintain the humility which brings us to our knees in sorrow for what we have done to each other and to God. We must always seek after that elusive ability to truly forgive the other.
What the Courier Mail did on the front page trying to be sensationalist and alarmist was simply state the obvious there is a war on our way of life.
Yes, there is one that rage somewhat outside our influence and experience but there is also the internal one. There is a wonderful cartoon by Michael Leunig which depicts a husband and wife talking, which pretty much sums it up:
How do we inject hope into this ironic situation? Not by any human means! Havel argued that we must look to a higher meaning and higher source of authority. In hope and faith Paul declares, “Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” Yes, there may be judgement and correction to occur, although i would argue that this has already taken place in the cross of Christ but the promise of God is that this war we rage against ourselves is coming to an end.
That we will know God and we will all be God’s people. In the meantime we carry this hope as we learn to live with difference, as we forgive and as we remain open to our need to be forgiven.
Thanks be to God.