As a further response to the recent article from Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson, A (much) Wider View of a Voice to Parliament, we asked Dr Richard Smith to share some of his most recent sermon on Being Born Again.
A VOICE and the SACREDNESS of NATURE
Pondering a sermon on being Born Again from John 3:1-17. I concluded that this idea must have entered Aboriginal consciousness from nature itself, which is being continuously Born Again as part of the evolutionary process. In this process our trees are forever shedding leaves and bark to grow new ones and to produce flowers, nectar and seeds. This process over millions of years by storing Carbon as fossil fuels and increasing atmospheric O2 to 21% made it possible for us big brain mammals to emerge into this wonderful world. In this process nutrients from deep in the soil are continuously being brought to the surface enabling other shrubs and plants to prosper – transforming the barren coastal sand dunes of SW Australia over the last 7000 years into a cherished place to live.
I learn much by daily cycling through a small piece of Native Bushland between Karrakatta Cemetery and neighbouring housed. The dedicated neighbours and others have erected a notice board advertising their Mission of protecting the sacredness of nature to passers-by. A year ago the bushland during a day of 42?C temperatures was devastated by fire, leading to a former politician suggesting the time had come to cover the area with concrete, bitumen and houses. But the locals instead began a process of active restoration and 12 months later this small piece of Nature is being Born Again. Compared with most of our own Church signs, visitors passing by, might well conclude that we are all but dead unlike the carers of this Bushland who are very much alive in their care for Mother nature and advertising on their notice board, their mission, their next meeting date, a pray by a tree in a Portuguese forest, a Greek proverb and the 10 blessings we receive from trees, plus much other sundry information on endemic plant species birds and animals.
From this daily experience of nature I crafted the following sermon for Wembley Downs Uniting Church on John 3: 1-17.
Nicodemus a learned Pharisee came by night to see Jesus. He was struggling to experience the coming Kingdom of God under the oppression of the Roman Empire and their collaborators. This spiritual dimension of life and the need to be Born Again was eluding him. The early Christian community, created John’s Gospel about 65 years after Jesus died, and put these words into his mouth as they were facing incredible pressures to abandon Jesus’ Way.
From time to time through history we face such seemingly insurmountable spiritual roadblocks. After the carnage of two world wars Aldous Huxley viewing the stressed state of the world in the mid-20th Century wrote to a friend: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history, is the most important of all the lessons of history.” Yet each Sunday we read our scriptures seeking guidance for our own faith journey and that of our world. History is not about facts, but the interpretation of those facts. That is why we have inherited the 66 books of our Bible which we continue to struggle to interpret.
Melvyn Bragg in his The Book of Books; The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011, writes of the importance of our scriptures in helping us address the momentous changes over the last 400 years. He claims: “You may be a Christian. You may be anti-Christian or of another religion, or none. You may be an atheist fundamentalist and think the Bible monstrous, a book to be dismissed or derided. But whoever you are in the English-speaking world, I hope to persuade you to consider that the King James Bible has driven the making of that world over the last 400 years, often in the most unanticipated ways”.
I take as an example the lectionary OT reading last week of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which St Augustine interpreted as the Origin of Sin for which Women and other marginalised groups have subsequently been blamed, supressed and persecuted over the last 1,000 years.
These persecuted people particularly women but also others have used scripture to fight back, resulting in the story of the Garden of Eden being interpreted as a story of Original Blessing in which God warns Adam and Eve to not to strip all the fruit from the tree of life, but to leave enough for other forms of life and future generations.
Such reading from the book of Nature was foundational to the religion of Aboriginal people that sustained them in this land for over 50,000 years, while we after only 200 years of settlement are facing an ecological crisis. Therefor giving Aboriginal and Islander people a VOICE in our Constitution would provide a pathway for their belief in the sacredness of Nature to have a way into Government policy.
For us, the Church, and the whole of humanity this switch from a Doctrine of Original Sin to one of Original Blessing requires that we be Born Again into a Creation Spirituality. A spirituality expounded by Matthew Fox, Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin and Lloyd Geering among others.
Being Born Again poses an immense challenge for the rich and privileged, with our sense of entitlement – as it did in Jesus’ time. It is a challenge more easily accepted by the poor and dispossessed where the Church remains strong as a cohesive and guiding force. We experience this in our work with the Papuans of eastern Indonesia.
Like Nicodemus, for many these facts are hard to stomach and are actively resisted, but within them I believe lies the future of the Church and the world we serve – whose relevance depends on us being collectively Born Again.
Dr Richard Smith, Progressive Christianity Network, Western Australia.
wonderful comments most refreshing
The Nicodemus story is an interesting one and, no doubt, is subjected to as many interpretations as there are religious cultures and traditions. My own ‘progressive’ take on it is shaped by the Benedictine Abbess, Joan Chittister, who alludes to it as ‘Breaking the Silence’ or ‘The Obligation to Speak Up!’ Timorous old Nicco sneaks in to see Jesus under the cover of darkness because he’s afraid of the cost to his reputation that visible discipleship will exact. We are all a bit like that. On my side of the wider Christian family we are called ‘Cafeteria Catholics’, which caustically alludes to the commodification of Gospel values, some of which we choose and others that pose too heavy a burden to carry as witnesses of Christ.