Sunday 26th January 2020
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21
As I said in my weekly email, I had in my mind to start by saying “Happy New Year” … but I acknowledge that for some people it has not been the happiest start to the year. Many of us have felt the weight of concern around all those effected by the bush fire crisis, and while the rain in the past week has been helpful – the rebuilding and healing process will take a long time. I have personally been worried about the role of climate change in all of this and wonder where it is going. Is it just going to get worse?
And my heart breaks for those who have lost property and loved ones … but my heart also breaks for the estimated one billion animals that have been killed or effected by the fires. They are suggesting that these fires have the potential to bring a number of species to extinction.
At the same time I have been following a little of what is happening in politics in the US and it concerns me that it seems for many politicians that defending your parties position is more important than doing what is right or best for the country. And truth seems to have gone out the window. And I am not sure if Australia politics are any better … and I worry about the future of democracy when it seems that winning is more important than fairness. Are things getting worse?
What do you think? Quick question …
Hands up if you think that things are worse now than say 20 years ago, or maybe 50 years ago if you are old enough. Is the world and society in a worse position? Hands up if you think things are worse? Does anyone think that things are better?
Let me go out on a small tangent for a moment. I was reading an article during the week that spoke about the anxiety (actually the writer used the word fear) that people have about the future. This article went on to explore that one of the results of being anxious or fearful of the future is that we develop a sense of scarcity … that we need to hold tightly to what we have because if things are getting worse, then we are not sure if we will have enough in the future.
Do you understand what the writer is saying? He gave the example of global immigration and refugees. He kept hearing people say that we shouldn’t allow immigration or refugees because we have this perception that we only have a limited number of jobs or houses or opportunities and if we let immigrants in then they will take them all and we or our children will not have enough.
We can see this pattern all around us. We perceive that things are getting worse and that makes us anxious that we will not have enough and so we hold what we have more tightly.
The writer of the article bluntly responded to this by saying, “But this is not the way of Jesus” … and referred to our bible reading for today.
In Matthew 14 Jesus has been teaching and healing when he received some tragic news about the death of John the Baptisst his cousin … and needing space to grieve, Jesus went to a solitary place. But as usual, a very large crowd of people followed and found Jesus … and in verse 14 we have that beautiful phrase “and Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick”.
But when evening approached there was a problem – the nearby villages were not large enough to cater for the number of people who were with Jesus. The disciples could see the emerging problem and when Jesus told them to solve it … the disciples viewed the problem through the lens of scarcity: “We only have five loaves and two fish”.
We can’t share … we barely have enough for ourselves.
The disciples were caught in a mentality of scarcity.
Let me go out on another tangent from the tangent that I am currently on…
In the midst of the bushfire crisis … when it was obvious that this bushfire season was significantly worse than the previous seasons … something extraordinary happened. Yes, people were fearful and anxious … but did people in that fear by thinking that things would be scarcer and respond by holding tightly to what they had. No. Actually, the opposite happened. There was an outpouring of generosity from all people.
The figures are mind-blowing. A rough count during the week that around $260 million dollars has been donate by people to bushfire relief. One article I was reading was saying that there is some evidence that young people make up a significant number of donors … those who could argue that relatively scarce resources have been very generous givers.
Why is this? It seems to go against what the writer of my scarcity article was saying. I have an idea … a thought.
I think that we as a nation had a moment when saw beyond ourselves – helped by those sharing the story. We collectively felt empathy for those affected and wanted to help … and we could see that a donation would make a difference and that spurred this extraordinary generosity.
Yes, we could see that things were horrible … and possible were/are going to get worse … but we have this believe, this hope, that things will get better, that we can make a difference. Hence the donations … and the climate rallies … and the offers of help , the calls for the firies to be compensated etc.
Alright … Back to my question before all the tangents … are things worse today than they were 20 years ago or 50 years ago. There has been some interesting research on this.
When people are asked this question, the vast majority of people answer “yes” things are worse … and yet on most scales it is clear that things are better now than they have ever been.
Now, I am not saying that we as a world do not have problems … we do … but I want to share with us a few example to stir within you some hope.
Despite modern day issue like obesity, we are the healthiest people ever. Life expectancy is increasing across the world, global infant mortality rates have drop from 20% 50 years ago to about 4% now. In the last 25 years the cancer death rates have fallen by 25%. There are some diseases that have been completely eradicated. Health wise, things have never been better.
But what about our economies? Yes, there is a deal of fragility in the global economy and yes, we still have the problem of the
rich are getting richer and there is some strong evidence of middle income wage stagnation … but at the same time, the number of people in extreme poverty has been the great untold success of the past 75 years. In 1950, 75% of the world was living in extreme poverty, today it is less than 10%. Amid the flurry of bad news in the media it is easy to overlook this extraordinary fact, “on average, every single day since 1990 there has been 130,000 people fewer in extreme poverty”.
The education story is equally encouraging. In the same timeframe we have gone from 40% global literacy to above 80% and with 50% of children now achieving high school education.
But what about things like crime. Surely that is getting worse. Nope. We are safer than we have ever been. Homicide rates are down, violent crimes are down, assault is down, theft is down. The only category that is rising is sexual assault and they believe that is because more people are reporting it … not because more is happening.
I could go on … there is more freedom in the world now with less people living in dictatorships than ever before. Believe it or not, historically we are in a time of low world conflict. And I have not even touched on scientific advancement, social advancement, technological advancement. I will say again – there are still lots of problems … serious issues that need to be addressed. Humanity’s impact on the environment is at a level that is not sustainable, and we urgently need to reduce our impact. I am one of these people that say the climate change issue must be immediately addressed. Continuing threats to our political freedom and liberty must be dealt with. Future gains are by no means assured.
However, I wanted to ask … why don’t we hear these good news stories? Why don’t we know that the world is getting better? Part of the answer is the media. A bad news headline sells better than a good one … and the media tends to focus on a single event that is bad rather than a slowly improving story with no particular event to promote in a headline.
Politics are partly to blame. Fear is a particularly successful motivator to vote for a party. A campaign that says, “Things will continue to be good under either party” just wouldn’t work … but saying things will get worse if you vote for them … that works.
The problem that I see with this focus we have on the negative instead of the positive, is that it leads us to be anxious and worried and that leads to a scarcity mentality and holding things tight.
When we think that things are getting worse in Australia, it leads us to not want to accept refugees or immigrants because we won’t have enough. If we accept that things have improved in Australia, that things are better … then the immigration argument falls apart.
Let’s go back to the Jesus and the five loaves and two fishes. Jesus was encouraging his disciples to see things from a different perspective. The kingdom of God is a place of plenty. A scarcity mentality seems to jar against the abundant life that Jesus came to bring.
In the story of the 5000 … Jesus was inviting the disciples: “Put the resources in my hand and see what I can do with it.” The scarcity became abundance … over abundance … there are twelve baskets full of food leftover.
Let me clarify. This is not prosperity preaching. I am not saying, “give to Jesus and you will have your material desires met”. What I am encouraging us to do is to push past the scarcity mentality and trust Jesus with what we have. It is when we believe that there is enough we begin to live generously.
That is what I think happened during the bushfires. People realised that as a nation we have been blessed … and now there were people in need, and we gave generously … and it has made a huge difference.
So … why have I been thinking about all of this over my holidays. Well, here is the punch line… I think that there is a message in all of this for us as a church. I feel that God has been stirring something within me that I will share more about next week in Vision Sunday but I will give you the headlines now and you can share with me what you think…
I think that we need to see as a church that we are now in a good place. Sure, there is still plenty to work on … but there are heaps of good news stories. We as a church have been blessed – blessed with growth, blessed with a healthy budget, blessed with amazing talent in our volunteers (and staff), blessed with a facility like we have … so how do we respond to this blessing? What does it mean for us to be generous with what we have. How can we place all that we have as a church into the hands of Jesus and allow Jesus to more, abundantly more?
One of the things that I will talk about next Sunday in Vision Sunday is this idea that TUC is a light house church. We are one of the biggest Uniting Churches in our region and in the state … and we are still growing. What does it mean for us to be a light house church.
If you think about it … a light house doesn’t just benefit those who are inside the light house! A light house is sharing that it has (light) out beyond itself so that others can be helped and benefited. What does it mean for us to give to Jesus our five loaves and two fish and let Jesus shine that out beyond us to bless the 5000.
Enough thoughts for now. Come back next week. Amen.