Sunday, September 29, 2013

Today's sermon (at Pilgrim Uniting Church, Adelaide)

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
This is the last Sunday in this Season of Creation series…..
A new report from the IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released in Stockholm on Friday, the result of 7 years work by more than 600 scientists and researchers, as well as policy makers. It stated there is now a 95% probability that humans are responsible for global warming. When 97% of scientists say there’s now a 95% probability than humans are responsible for global warning, we should sit up and take notice. We may need to reposition ourselves though, to move from an anthropocentric view of the world – where humans are the centre and everything else is at their disposal, to an eco-centric view of the world where the welfare of the earth takes seriously the intrinsic value of all life. What is good for the earth will also provide for the welfare of human persons but we may need to move our attention from ‘things’, to live with simplicity and contentment, so that life on earth is sustainable for humans.
The IPCC report presents a number of different scenarios of how climate change may unfold over the next century. It is predicted the sea-level will rise anywhere between 26 and 98 cm by 2100. It will bring disaster to our Pacific neighbours and many other parts of the world. The temperature is predicted to rise anywhere between 2 - 4.8 degrees Celsius. The report states that many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed. The amounts of snow and ice have diminished. The sea level has risen and concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says, "The heat is on. Now we must act". 
The passage in our reading from 1 Timothy seems to have little to do with this – yet everything to do with some of the underlying causes…..
This passage was written in the context of the Roman Empire, but the words leap off the page in an era dominated by materialism, consumerism and acquisition. There is an insatiable desire for ‘things’. It seems we can never have enough. It’s an endless cycle of acquiring more, in the vain hope of finding contentment, meaning, identity through acquisition. This is particularly so in western countries.
The passage has a great deal to say about one’s attitude to money, to acquisition. It invites us to reflect on the connection of godliness and contentment - for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. Anthony de Mello's  contented fisherman  so effectively juxtaposes the attitude of relentless acquisition with the fisherman who has enough and is contented. The word “contentment” (from the Greek term autarkeia)  conveys the important Stoic concept of not being bothered by external circumstances. We don’t need ‘things’ to find that contentment.
Contented Fisherman
One lazy day the rich man found the fisherman lying beside his boat smoking a pipe. The rich man was horrified. “Why aren’t you out fishing?” the rich man asked. “Because I have caught enough fish for the day,” the fisherman answered. “Why don’t you catch some more?” the rich man demanded. “What would I do with it?” replied the fisherman.“Earn more money. Then you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. That would bring you money to buy nylon nets, so more fish, more money. Soon you would have enough to buy two boats... even a fleet of boats. Then you could be rich like me,” explained the rich man. “What would I do then?”  asked, the fisherman.“Then you could really enjoy life,” the rich man asserted. “What do you think I am doing now?” said the fisherman. The rich man fell silent and shook his head. 
Richard Rohr in his daily devotional email this week reflected:
“We are all complicit in and benefitting from what Dorothy Day called “the dirty rotten system.” That’s not condemning anybody; it’s condemning everybody because we are all complicit in and enjoying the fruits of domination and injustice. (Where were your shirts and underwear made? What wars allow us to have cheap food and gas?) Usually the only way to be really non-complicit in the system is
to choose to live a very simple life. That’s the only way out of the system!
Thus most of the great wisdom teachers like Gandhi, Saints Francis and Clare, Simone Weil, Dorothy Day, Jesus and Buddha—lived voluntarily simple lives. That’s almost the only way to stop bending the knee before the system. This is a truly transfigured life in cultures which today are almost always based on climbing, consumption, and competition (1 John 2:15-17)
Once we idealize social climbing, domination of others, status symbols, power, prestige, and possessions, we are part of a never-ending game that is almost impossible to escape. It has its own inner logic that is self-maintaining, self-perpetuating, and self-congratulating, as well as elitist and exclusionary. It will never create a just or happy world, yet most Christians never call it into question. Jesus came to free us from this lie, which will never make us happy anyway, because it’s never enough, and we never completely win”.
It makes sense then that those who have riches “are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Without that generosity and preparedness to share, greed for money may well plunge others into poverty and ruin.
Rev Dr Jason John (Deacon in the Uniting Church in Australia) is a passionate advocate for eco-justice. He says the double-edged call of eco-justice is premised on the view that the human degradation of nature, of which greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are but a symptom, is fundamentally linked to the social patterns and social institutions that oppress human beings. We cannot address one without the other. Poverty is an ecological problem, just as violations of natures biodiversity and the biosphere have exacerbated the extent of global poverty. So, eco-justice assumes that to address environmental degradation in our world we must also challenge the exploitation of the poor. In other words, one part of the world cannot live in an orgy of unrestrained consumption while the rest destroys its environment just to survive.
The passage concludes (6:17-19) with wisdom about using one’s wealth effectively. Freed from the need to accumulate as the means of finding meaning in life, people can turn their attention beyond themselves to the welfare of others and learn to love effectively with the means they have. As we intentionally go deeper into our connection with God, into the heart of love, generosity, compassion, justice and peace, we will then find freedom to connect meaningfully with others, and to our world - and to the best we seek for ourselves – the path of contentment and joy. May it be so.

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