Todays readings for 15th Sunday After Pentecost Exodus 14:19-31 Psalm 114 Romans 14:1-14 Matthew 18:21-35
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
The gospel this morning is all about forgiveness and it is extravagant forgiveness. Peter asks about the number of times that we should forgive someone ‘in the brotherhood’ in other words within the group, what ever it might be. Our version translates it as ‘in the church’, but when Peter asks the question there is no church- I suspect he means within the group that going around with Jesus, and we have already seen some tensions arising. It is a very sad fact that as soon as a group of people get together there are tensions arising. Rene Girard says that it is because of ‘mimesis’, that is an imitation of desire. I want what you want, or as in the film When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having”. You become my model. If I desire what you desire, then we are the same and I need to differentiate myself from you so I go even further in the competition and you imitate me and this escalates into conflict. We can see this being played out on the world stage right at this minute with North Korea and the US, can’t we?
Imitation is not always a bad thing however, it depends on who you take as your model, and if we take Jesus as our model things are very different.
I said before that this is about extravagant forgiveness and the model that Jesus gives us in his shocking parable is one of extreme forgiveness.
I don’t know if you remember the occasion on which George Bush, when told that two Brazillion soldiers had died, is reported to have said, ‘how many is a ‘brazillion’?’ Well this is a bit like that. When Jesus describes the amount owed as ten talents that is like saying ‘ a brazillion dollars’ it’s an unimaginable amount.
We have become used to our governments talking in terms of many billions of dollars because that is the way our world economies work these days, but we can’t actually understand in real terms how much money that is. And we struggle also to come to grips with things like the quantity of rain forest being destroyed each day, or the carbon emissions of a country like China. When we see the Chinese population all wearing masks that brings it home a little bit more, doesn’t it, because we need to see this in terms that we can imagine. And Jesus’ parable quickly comes down to a more understandable amount, which is 100 denarii which is a large sum as well but more within their comprehension. And Jesus’ message is that God forgives us a huge and unimaginable amount so we should forgive the smaller debts that we are owed.
Now it’s interesting I think that Jesus is choosing to express forgiveness in terms of money rather than in terms of some of the other kinds of offenses. Is this because money or wealth, touches us at a very sensitive place? Everyone from the wealthiest to the poorest needs money to survive. And we all want what our neighbour has, it is mimetic desire. When Jesus was writing this there was a gap between the wealthy and the poor. Most of the poorer people laboured for a daily sum, and they ate if they got paid that day. In some ways the slaves were in a better position because they were always fed. There are, of course, billions of people who are still in this same position today of daily work, paid a pittance. The difference is that in real terms the wealthy were far less wealthy than they are today, and controlled much smaller empires than the business moguls do today. Of course, we sitting in our homes in Camberwell don’t think of ourselves as especially wealthy do we? But the reality is that all of us are extremely wealthy, in world terms. Analyzing the distribution of wealth is a complex business and there are lots of different ways to do that but in very simple terms half of the world’s wealth belongs to the top 1%, the top 10% of adults hold 85%, while the bottom 90% hold the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth, and top 30% of adults hold 97% of the total wealth. We are in that top 30%, not in the 70% that hold 3% of the world’s wealth.
And how have we got so wealthy? Well, the industrial revolution has a lot to do with it. Since the industrial revolution the exploitation of the world’s resources in terms of non-renewables has grown exponentially. I found some statistics in the Scientific American magazine that a child born in the US would consume 13x more resources than a child born in Brazil, 35x more than a child in India and 53x more than a child born in China. That’s an interesting way of looking at it. We are not quite as greedy for resources here in Australia but sadly we rate quite high on the list, and I even found one study that had us at the very top of the list- which of course is related to the size of the country compared to its population. The whole business of calculating this kind of data is extremely complex and you get different results depending on the questions that you ask. However, there is no doubt that the world’s population is using more resources, than can be sustained. And that is before we come to the subject of global warming.
I wonder if any of you sitting here are climate change deniers? The events of these last few weeks and months in terms of exceptional floods and storms would suggest even to the most sceptical among us that there is stuff going on. Have you seen the infographic that shows the heat profile of the world? Let me show you. A friend of mine has recently visited some glaciers in the South Island of NZ and they are all changing, and changing rapidly. The ice packs both Arctic and Antarctic is melting, again quite rapidly. Now of course, some deniers suggest that this is a purely natural phenomenon, and even though they are a small group among the world’s scientists they get a lot of airplay. We have our share of climate change skeptics within our society and even within our government, and even those who don’t deny still seem to find it hard to act to change things.
Now, what has all this to do with the business of forgiveness, I hear you ask. When God created the earth he put the humans in the garden to till it and to look after it. This stewardship has been our responsibility since the creation. Of course, for a very long time it was simply done, though there have always been failures, think for a moment of the Mongolian desert. Since the industrial revolution things have changed rapidly in terms of production, with a resultant impact on consumption and most particularly in terms of our expectations as humans, because I want what you have. For a while it didn’t matter as we were still in surplus in terms of resources versus consumption but we have reached a tipping point in more ways than one. We the privileged few are using resources at an alarming rate, and whether or not they are resources that can be replaced, we are going too fast. And of course, the non-renewables won’t ever come back. It is a complex system but whether or not we can understand all the complexities it is clear to most of us that we are rapidly reaching a point of no return, if it is that we haven’t already reached it.
And this is where forgiveness comes in, because we, the exploitative group of wealthy, have brought God’s beautiful world to a point of being changed beyond recognition. And so I think we need the super extravagant forgiveness of God. And we the exploitative group of wealthy have caused problems for the world’s poorest people, as our brothers and sisters who live a much lower-consumption life on the Pacific and Atlantic islands will tell us, let alone the people of Bangladesh and the horn of Africa. And for these two things, for the destruction of God’s creation and the resultant inequality and injustice for the world’s poor, we must seek forgiveness.
It is hard as an individual, isn’t it, to see our own culpability? We are capable, I hope, of seeking forgiveness for the things that we do to other individuals, just as we see in the parable, but forgiveness on a global scale is much more difficult.
And of course, true repentance requires metanoia, a change of direction, and that is very difficult for us as well. However, it seems to me that there are things that we can do to exhibit repentance. We can change the way we consume, in small ways. We can be aware of the impact of our choices. We can give generously to those who we have disenfranchised, albeit unwittingly and we can petition for change at a structural level. We can choose our superannuation funds with care, we can choose our power companies with care and contribute to the green energy production. We can change our consumption patterns when it comes to water resources. It all takes a bit of effort, of course, but as grandparents, as so many of us are, we can see the value of attempting to stop the decline, for the future generations.
And in world terms, I don’t know how we are to seek forgiveness of the poorest people on earth, but we can certainly beg God’s forgiveness for the greed that characterises us as first world people.
When I think about creation in these terms of stewardship, and my personal failure, and our nation’s failure, I am extremely glad of the God who forgives so extravagantly.
A person once told me that he believed that if Global Warming was a thing, that God would sort the problem out for God’s people. I was reminded of that old story of the flood waters rising and the man who refused to leave his home when the SES knocked on his door. He ended up sitting on his roof. A boat came by and offered to take him off but he said that God would save him. A helicopter came along and offered to lift him off, but he said that he didn’t need help, God would save him and then of course, he drowned. When he got to heaven he said to God, I expected you to save me. And God said, first I sent the SES, then I sent a boat, then I sent a helicopter, what more did you want?
And this is us, my friends, we need to take advantage of every thing that God sends us to try to turn this situation around, and we need to be very glad that God does forgive in such an extravagant style. God our creator, God the creator of our incredible world, God the creator of the universe cares for each of us. For God so loved the world…