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THE PERILS OF PERVERTED PRIORITIES

17thFebruary 2019 . Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:17-26

I cannot remember an era when so many things were happening at the same time that indicated the seriousness of the perils facing humanity.

Yes, the nuclear threat which so dominated our younger days like a giant mushroom cloud was huge and frightening, and has never really gone away. But that threat depended on some country or another pressing a button, the consequences of which were mutually assured destruction. So far, thank God, nobody has been prepared to take that risk.

In the long, hot record-breaking summer of 2018/2019 however, we are seeing the consequences of buttons being continually pressed over many decades- buttons that set in motion the exploitation of the earth and the burning of fossil fuel, the long-term consequences of which are seemingly, suddenly upon us. Yet still the ones who benefit most from the short term gain of environmental exploitation refuse to take their hands of the buttons of "progress”. Nobody seems to want to stop clearing natural habitat so more cash crops can be planted or animals farmed. Nor do they want to let go of the profits that come from mining and burning the minerals of mutually assured destruction.

The rich are reaping great rewards now.

And the poor are suffering and dying in great numbers, whether they be a million fish in the Darling at Menindee, hundreds of thousands of cattle in North Queensland, along with kangaroos, camels, bats, and hordes of less visible creatures of the earth. Yes, some rich are also suffering a variety of losses in the climate calamities of this summer- be it by fire, by flood or by drought. Those who seek to keep and maximise their profits in the good times, sometimes also look to socialise their losses in the bad times. Jesus may well say- "you have had your reward” yet those of us with good social capital and access are fortunate to still have a voice with which to plead for and often experience communal mercy. In this privileged space, the least we can do is try to restore a state of justice where everyone, both rich and poor, find help when they need it.

In the bigger picture, since the dawn of civilisation, human activity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild animals, 80% of marine mammals, 505 of plants and 15 % of fish.

The voiceless poor, be they the creatures of the earth, or most of the 90% of people who live below what we would consider to be the poverty line, suffer mainly in silence. Ironically, it is the smallest and most numerous, the insects, that in their catastrophic decline pose perhaps the greatest threat to the demise of the human race. And still humanity keeps pushing the buttons of the insecticides of mutually assured destruction

Why are we not paying attention?

Yet Jesus voice is not silent, but echoes down the ages with a fervour and stridency that cannot be denied- "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”

And woe too, I would dare to suggest, to those of us who assume that we are exempt from this characterisation of ‘richness’. As Rev Michael Earl notes in his commentary in With Love to the World, "Whilst in a country such as Australia there is some poverty, the majority of Australians would be considered wealthy by world standards. The website ‘globalrich.com’ indicates that being on even the most basic pension in this country would place us well within the top 10% of the world’s wealthiest people”. Beyond that, we have to shoulder some communal responsibility for being enriched by the mining and export of coal and gas; and whatever benefits flow from consuming the so far ample produce of the exploited Murray Darling Basin, and the fruits of land which is still being cleared in NSW and Queensland at rates which put us near the top of world watch-lists.

Meanwhile, just off our coast, the buttons being pressed by mega-companies seeking new reserves of gas threaten the wildlife of the sea- the whales, the dolphins, and a myriad of lesser voiceless creatures. The promised rewards are rich, the longer-term consequences diabolical for all of our created living order.

The problem with addressing the teachings of Jesus in relation to the contrasting fates of the rich and the poor is not what examples to include, but what to leave out! One could go on and talk about the middle class welfare of returning profits from franking credits to those who pay no tax on their significant retirement investments, the obscene rip-offs that have been exposed by the Banking Royal Commission, or the perverted priorities of those who decide to spend $50 billion of the nation’s wealth on 12 submarines with questionable value to the nation’s defence.

(and did I mention Paladin, or the do-called Great Barrier Reef Foundation- you have your reward!)

I am tempted here to dial up the prophet Jeremiah, and cherry-pick his comment that "The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse- who can understand it.” There is obviously a lot of truth in that assertion, yet it is unwise to make our generalisations too sweeping. The fact is that we are, as human beings, in a tricky and dangerous space. There is much blame that can be laid, and Jesus does not hold back in placing the major responsibility squarely at the feet of those who have profited without corresponding care, generosity or compassion. At the same time, our faith is one that centres on hope- a hope that within the compassion of Christ, the balance of nature and nurture can be restored. While the achievement of what we hope for may seem to be but a distant possibility, hope is something of which we just cannot afford to let go. As the Roman poet Ovid said, "My hopes are not always realised, but I always hope.” In fact, the church is called to be that alternative, hopeful community where the kingdom of God, in all its wisdom and equity, is lived out to the best of our ability.

So what am I really saying here today?

1. Everyone from Attenborough to the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists is telling us that the human race is in deep schtuck, and we had better start paying attention if we are not already doing so. Because of rampant greed and the inability to let go of that which makes us comfortable and prosperous, we are witnessing, in the words of Patricia Espinosa, of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, "…the severe impacts of climate change throughout the world. Every credible scientific source is telling us that these impacts will only get worse if we do not address climate change and also tells us that our window of time for addressing it is closing very soon…We need to dramatically increase our ambitions.”

2. Nobody here, nor most people in the whole country, is exempt from the ambit of Jesus words about the perils of perverted priorities. The "woes” of the Lucan beatitudes are addressed to us.

3. Those who are willing to take responsibility for their own contribution to the dilemmas, the deceptions and the destruction around us, are immediately in the position of being summoned to act under the renewed energy of the forgiveness and compassion of God. As Jesus said to the woman allegedly caught in the act of adultery, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

4. Repentant people who care about the common good are called to engage in both the macro and the micro worlds that we inhabit. The powerful rich need to hear the voices of those who are still able to speak and speak out. We need to be informed. For anyone with a computer connected to the internet, there really is no excuse to still being in the dark about what is actually going on in the arenas of the powerful rich. Yes, some things remain hidden, but there is an awful lot that is known- plenty in fact to go on.

In our own spheres of influence, be it our gardens, or our bank accounts, or our circle of friends, what we are able to change and achieve is limited only by our imaginations; be it anything from our food choices and their packaging, to our share portfolios, to whether or not we are willing to spend more to buy 100% renewable energy. And even if we are not willing to go as far as getting out onto the streets to raise our voices in mutual concern, we can at least support those who do, like the school children who are realising that it is time to take their futures into their own hands.

TODAY, Jesus is warning us of the perils of perverted priorities. He is also calling to our attention the plight of the poor, in whatever way poverty strikes them. Getting angry and defensive, or wallowing in guilt and apparent helplessness, gets us worse than nowhere. Responding to the call to change, and therefore being agents of change in a suffering world, is what takes us all to a better place- a place where we are filled, a place where we can laugh, a place of blessing and rejoicing, a place where everything is made new.



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