Hope not fear … fresh words and deeds

Reading
Luke 12.32–40

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore”—“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. — from Laudato Si’, Encyclical of Pope Francis

———————-

In the 1930s, dark storm clouds were gathering over the peoples of the world. The Nazi Party had come to power in Germany, and the other nations were watching with great anxiety. What would Adolf Hitler do? 

The churches of Germany found out quite quickly what Hitler would do. A program was begun of 

  • downplaying the Old Testament; 
  • declaring that Jesus was not a Jew, but of the so-called ‘Aryan race’; 
  • pushing baptised members who were of Jewish descent and other so-called ‘non-Aryans’ out of the life of the church; 
  • and of emphasising ‘manliness’ over ‘feminine’ values. The churches were pressured to put ‘German values’ above the gospel. 

This was the time that the ‘Confessing Church’ emerged. The Confessing Church was determined to keep the good news of Jesus Christ at the centre of the church’s life. The Confessing Church was a church of resistance, which numbered among its members the pastors Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. 

It was a frightening time. The Nazi regime was reinforcing its grip on the whole of German society, including the church. 

This pulpit and the wall decorations are in the Martin Luther Memorial Church, in Berlin. The building was completed in 1935; it is no longer in regular use. The pulpit shows an Aryan Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount with a German soldier behind him, ready to do his duty. (At least he’s not armed.)

The wall decorations show a helmeted soldier, and an eagle; this decoration originally had a swastika. It was removed after the war ended.

You can see that the Confessing Church was faced by a tsunami of Nazi ideology. This tsunami came from within and without the church. It found courage and strength in these words of Jesus from today’s Gospel reading:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 

‘Do not be afraid, little flock…’ These words are addressed to followers of Jesus who live in fear. No wonder the Confessing Church found hope in them. To live without fear in a fearful time is a great gift, a very great gift indeed. We could say it’s a sign of God’s kingdom coming amongst us. 

In fact, I think we shall say that. When we live fearlessly in a fearful time, the kingdom of God is among us. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ is not a lullaby. It’s a call to action. 

Jesus is saying, the Creator, your Father, has your back. So, be ready to act. In the NRSV, Jesus says ‘Be dressed for action’, literally ‘Gird up your loins’. We don’t gird up our loins that much in West End these  days, but this is it:

Just in case you think that’s just a wee bit sexist, we also have: 

(I think hers is bigger than his!) 

Don’t be afraid. God has your back. Get into action.

The Confessing Church needed to hear that message.

We’re not (yet?) facing a Nazi threat, although the Conservative Political Action Conference, the group that has been credited with launching Donald Trump’s political career, is meeting in Australia this weekend. And although there has been a steep rise in anti-Semitic graffiti in our country in recent times. Of course, that graffiti includes the swastika. 

And furthermore, recently Pope Francis has said: 

I am concerned because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934. 

He is speaking mainly about Italian politics, but his words apply much more widely. 

Yet we are facing another immediate threat, one as real as the one the Confessing Church faced. It’s a threat that we should take seriously, one which our children and grandchildren will surely have to live with. 

I’m talking about the threat of climate change. 

God is giving us the kingdom in an age in which human activity is causing the greatest change in climate seen in all of human history. I know some people don’t believe this, but I’m going with the +97% of scientists who accept the reality of human-induced climate change. 

We have to be dressed for action. We need the grace to live without fear, yet in a fearful time. 

Last month, July, was the hottest month ever recorded on earth. The last four years have been the hottest years recorded in history. The world’s second largest ice sheet, in Greenland, is melting. Bushfires in Siberia have destroyed an area of land almost the size of Belgium. Closer to home, 50% of the Great Barrier Reef has gone. 

We need to be dressed for action. But why? Why do the Christian churches need to be involved? Isn’t it all ‘political’? 

We must be involved because God is the Creator and God’s creation is at risk. The earth will survive; many species will not. Genesis 1.31 tells us, 

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. 

God’s good creation is threatened by humans; God put us here to steward and take care of the earth, not to destroy it. 

God is the Creator and we are undoing God’s creation. 

We must be involved because we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. The leaders of Pacific nations are warning Australia to do more. Our leaders are worried about China’s expansion into the Pacific; Pacific leaders believe that their security is threatened by rising sea waters due to looming climate catastrophe more than by China’s actions, concerning though they may be. 

The neighbour we must love includes the next generations, our children and their children. The churches have a Gospel to proclaim, but we must proclaim it in the context that we find ourselves. The next generations will not listen to our message if we fail them here. But

do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

It is our time to receive God’s kingdom-gift, in an age  of approaching climate crisis. This is our time. 

We all know the kinds of things people talk about that we can do: reusing, recycling, upcycling, cutting down on plastic etc. We all know that nations have to do much more, including our own. 

Civil disobedience or direct action is another strategy, as happened on Brisbane streets recently. There is going to be a global climate strike on Friday 20 September. The strikingly new thing here is that Dr Deirdre Palmer, the President of the Uniting Church Assembly, has issued this statement:

I invite members of the Uniting Church in Australia and all who share in our hope for the healing of the Earth, to take part in the Global Climate Action on September 20, 2019.

This Earth is created by our good and generous Creator. We are connected to the Earth and are called to live with care and respect toward the whole Creation. In the Scriptures and in our present context we hear Christ’s call to participate in Christ’s renewal of the creation.

Climate refugees, widening deserts, polluted oceans, endangered animals and vanishing forests are signs of the suffering of our planet, and a cry for us to take compassionate action as disciples of Christ.

We are passionately committed to contributing our voice and action toward a world in which all people, creatures and the Earth can flourish.

We call on our Australian Government to enact climate change policy that recognises our contribution to the crisis facing our planet, and acts to effectively address the crisis and contribute to the healing of God’s Earth.

I have never heard an Australian church leader speak this way. It underscores that we are facing a climate crisis of catastrophic proportions. It encourages us to be, like the Confessing Church before us, a church of resistance. 

It is also in line with the words of the Basis of Union (para.11):

The Uniting Church … prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.

Whether we join in these ‘fresh words and deeds’ on 20 September or not, I ask that we support and encourage friends and family who do join in. I ask that no one criticise anyone who marches. And that we pray for the world’s leaders to finally act on climate change. 

I also want to encourage everyone not to be afraid. We do best when we set our life course out of hope rather than fear; when we embrace the signs of the new age of God’s kingdom, including sharing in this holy meal together with Jesus, the truly Human One among us; and when we gird up our loins and act. 

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 

 

West End Uniting Church, 11 August 2019

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