Sermon for June 14 2020

“The future ain’t what it used to be”

Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Sermon for Sunday, June 14, 2020

by Rev. James Murray at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church, Renfrew

This morning we shared the description of how Jesus sends his followers out into the world. We are to be more than just people who have listened to the words of Jesus. We are to be people who live the Way of Jesus. Our lives are to be an expression of what God’s love for this world looks like. Jesus tells his apprentices that we are to change the world. And we are to do this by being healers and reconcilers who work together for the good of all.  The sending out of the disciples has often been compared to a general sending out the army to conquer the world. Yet this army carries no weapons and it doesn’t harm anyone. We are to go into the world ‘as one that serves’. We are to approach the world with open hands and open hearts.  We are to embody the Holy Spirit, which inspires in us a willingness to give freely, and to love everyone we meet.At the time, everyone was expecting a messiah who would conquer the world and rule over it forever. What we got is a humble man who dares to believe a different way of life is possible, that a different world is possible if we are willing to embrace this change of heart. If there is anything our world is not short of these days, it is change.

It’s been three turbulent months since we locked down our Province.We shut everything down as a way of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. These efforts have saved a lot of lives.However, Covid-19 is still with us.It will be around at least for another year or two until we get a vaccine. So now we are coming out of our cocoons,and we are trying to manage the level of risk of exposure every time we step outside to interact with other people.As the football coach Yogi Berra once said,“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Change is always difficult. All too quickly the past fades away and new situations jump up faster than we can respond. All too often we treat change as a problem that needs to be solved. If only we could control it or stop it our lives would be so much simpler. Over the ages the great teachers of wisdom have given us lots of advice on how to deal with the perennial problem of Change. Thousands of years ago the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus warned us that ‘Nothing endures but change.’ Four hundred years ago the British philosopher Francis Bacontold us  ‘the person who will not apply new remedies must expect new evils;  for time is the greatest innovator.’  But what if change is not the enemy? What if change is not a problem that can ever be solved? 

Modern science tells us the very foundation of life is the process of change we call evolution. Evolution shows us how life on this planet developed over the course of billions of years. Evolution also shows us we are all still in the process of becoming, because evolution didn’t stop when we humans showed up. If evolution is the way life on this planet develops, then the meaning or purpose of life is for us all to evolve well. A lot is at stake, because we human beings have become self-aware of evolution. We know everything evolves. As a result we know that by our behaviour we are changing the trajectory of evolution on a planetary level. We know we do not just prosper as isolated individuals. We have to make choices every day.  in order to evolve well as a community, as a society, as a species, and as part of an inter-connected ecosystem. If we fail to choose wisely, the impact of our failures will  affect the evolution of this planet forever.  For better and for worse, we have the power to change the course of history.  Ever since we became aware of evolution  and the role we play as a species, we have been trying to pick what is the best way to effect change in the world.

For the past 150 years, the dominant model of evolution has been described as the ‘survival of the fittest’. Only the strongest and bravest will thrive in this endless competition for survival. The doctrine of ‘survival of the fittest’ has been co-opted  as the moral justification for scientific progress at all costs. It is the foundation of the economic ideal that we can enjoy unlimited growth forever. It has been used to justify the over exploitation of natural resources to accumulate maximum wealth and power. Social Darwinism has also fuelled our distorted concepts of race which makes it easier to exploit others for economic advantage. The social, political, economic and ecological problems we are facing as a society have been well known for some time. And when you throw a pandemic into the mix, it creates an explosive cocktail.

The Covid -19 virus we are facing is a global event that is just starting to have its impact on us all. We know from past experience that large scale pandemics can quickly destabilize societies and our economies.  We know that pandemics tend to amplify and accelerate the social problems we are facing. As a result historians view pandemics as world changing events.  The protests we are seeing across the globe are addressing long standing issues of institutional racism and systemic economic inequality. The pandemic has brought these issues up to a boiling point which we ignore at our peril. The people who are protesting in support of Black Lives Matter are doing so because not everyone is being treated equally in our society. They are protesting racial violence because they believe a better world is possible.They are protesting because instead of helping our society, we are finding the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ is making things worse. 

The doctrine of ‘survival of the fittest’ was discredited as a theory many decades ago. Evolutionary biologists today believe that a spirit of co-operation, and not competition, is what drives evolution forward. Instead of a ‘survival of the fittest’,  we should be promoting a ‘survival of the kindest’ approach to life. We need to believe in something larger than ourselves in order to  transcend our individual differences and unite us for a common purpose.

 As people of faith we find it is the love of God that unites us as we co-create with God a life whose purpose is the collective flourishing of all. As the followers of Jesus today, he invites us to take the risk  and go into this troubled world, and offer his gift to all creation. He asks us to go to the lost sheep and be compassionate to those who suffer and are alone.  The way you treat everyone you meet, proclaims the good news,‘The kingdom of heaven is coming near.’ A different world is possible.  So be kind and caring to every living thing. Cure the sick, make new life possible. Embrace those who have been excluded for too long. Name the evil that is in our midst and then cast those demons out.This life is a gift. You received it without payment; so go, give of yourself and serve others in that same spirit of generosity.