Readings: Exodus.12:1-14; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
First let`s hear about the Old Testament context for our Exodus reading for today. Some of you may have seen an SBS documentary not long ago linking the biblical plagues recorded in Exodus with the huge volcanic explosion of Thera about 1600BCE where the island of Santorini remains. It was probably the largest eruption on Earth in the last 10,000 years producing great quantities of ash and a huge tsunami, up to 50 metres high wiping out the Minoan civilization based on Crete and probably affecting coastal settlements in Egypt as well as.
This map shows the depth of ash recorded in geological deposits across the Eastern Mediterranean.
The SBS program saw the Exodus plagues as reflecting the devastating impact over Egypt as falling ash turned rivers red like blood, asphyxiating fish and forcing frogs onto the land; ruining crops and causing infections due to skin irritation. Tree rings all over the world show this time to be the beginning of a cooling of world climate lasting several years as finer particles in the atmosphere reduced sunlight in turn causing food shortages.
However other scholars note that about 1200 BCE a century long drought also led to much chaos in the eastern Mediterranean including the demise of Rameses`s towns in the Nile delta perhaps due to mosquito born plagues. Both times meant damper conditions in storage silos leaving grain more prone to fungi such as ergot, which can be deadly when consumed. It has been suggested that it was the role of the eldest son to fetch the grain from storage thus exposing them to it. So being a meat eater would have been a good thing except it didn`t keep well without drying or salting - so let`s now read on.
First reading - Exodus 12:1-14
Those who identify themselves as Jews still see this as the key story of liberation from slavery, marking not only the start of their calendar, but also the beginning of their nation and of their religion. The Torah went on to command that tefillin (small black boxes) should be worn to serve as a `sign` and `remembrance` that God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. And so today if you saw a man wearing a black box on their head or arm you would know they are Jewish - as you also would with just a skull cap on. Maybe originally it was a wise move to keep bald heads from being burnt by the sun?
Of course, other religions have their specific identification markers too. The practicality in a hot climate of having a long cool garment like the Indian sari with something to pull over your head for shade or across your face in a duststorm has now become seen as a religious absolute for many Moslem women.
However, as you will pick up from this video clip, there are certain ways of dressing which are recognizably associated with other religions. See how many you can recognize amongst the figures having a meal around a table with Zeus is at the head - watch out at the beginning for his hand action and also for Jesus`s.
Show `You never lamb alone`video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8kuoFGgj8s
Probably only the younger generation here will understand the reference by Zeus to using a phone to find a match and an eggplant emoji symbol which apparently is used in sexting - I had to look it up online to find out! And I think the guy in brown represents a Jedi Master which apparently gets a few mentions in the religion section on our censuses! In the 2016 census 50% of the population did identify as Christian in one denomination or another but the largest proportion Catholics at 22% was outnumbered by the 30% as having `no religion` represented by the young woman who raised her glass to something they had in common - namely lamb.
I had to smile at this quirky video and had already decided to show it today, touching as it does on both our bible readings. It has caused a bit of controversy because in the Hindhu religion the elephant god Ganesh is vegetarian. I hope it doesn`t get banned though. Regardless of whether they were originally real people or products of a culture`s imagination, these figures have helped to generate a sense of meaning for humans struggling in a particular context.
It was when I was in Spain standing in the midst of a Moorish mosque, that it struck me that all the major religions arose out of a reaction to a particular context. The strict rules of Islam were a product of tribal warfare and a harsh desert environment whereas Christianity grew in the melting pot of oppressive urban settings. It was about inclusivity as everyone being God`s children whereas Judaism was more about exclusive nationalism focussed on a particular land as a reaction to slavery and oppression.
The rise of both Confucianism and Buddhism also provided unifying and transcendent ideals in a world changing from rural to urban dominance with its empire building and Iron Age warfare. But they were also a reaction to the plethora of fertility gods and goddesses as we see in the Hindhuism. These what are sometimes derogatorily called `fertility cults` arose as a result of the Neolithic agricultural revolution following the end of the Ice Age with a perceived need to appease divine connections to gain good harvests. Determining the growing seasons and celebrating harvest-time were probably the major reasons behind the megalithic stone structures I had seen on Malta in the remarkable nearly six thousand year old Bronze Age ruins of temples, and I would be going on to see the four and a half thousand year old Stonehenge when I reached England. But back another few thousand years in Stone Age hunter-gatherer times, rather than concepts of a separate divine world there had been a sense of direct spirit bond with creation like we can still see in the Aboriginal Dreamtime.
I know this is a simplistic summary. Why am I going down this track? Because history and pre-history show that human consciousness shifts whenever it has to deal with things that shake our foundations - and this is true both for society as well as for us personally. And because humanity is now in the midst of another major shift. For want of a better label I`ll call it the Technological Age. More than half the world now lives in cities and huge ones at that, dependent on technology. At the next census it won`t surprise me to see half of Australia marking `no religion` on their forms. But that does not mean our young folk are not in touch with their spirituality; and conversely that the spiritual dimension to the universe (which we may label as `the divine` or as `God`) is not touching them. The rise of individualism is not all bad because it also carries a sense of human values and concern for creation - maybe a new humanism is arising which is resisting oppression and exploitation? Maybe we are seeing a divine shift in consciousness happening.
But then again as Steve Earle wrote in this song he composed for Joan Baez to sing `God is God and God ain`t us?` Play song to my photos from creation/ travels
I wonder what God means for you in this rapidly changing world? My thinking is lining up more and more with progressive theologians like Sir Lloyd Geering who says:- `For me God is not the Creator who fashioned the world in six days or set off the Big Bang. God is not a personal being who creates or acts on the world. God is the process of creativity itself, an activity that permeates the expanding universe, that impels the onward march of life, that is present in us and enables us to be creative. `God` is not the name of a supernatural being but rather it is a symbolic term which gathers up all of the supreme values that I feel bound to respond to: honesty, justice, compassion, love, fairplay.`
The architect Gaudi has tried to image the mystery that is God in the amazing Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. So where does that leave us as Christians in this our rapidly changing world? Well we could retreat into bunkers of tradition and credal fundamentalism or we could try expressing the Jesus values in a different way that speaks to our time. As Nancy Ackermann puts it, `One of the messages Christianity has to offer is the message both of a radical equality and a radical grace. The notion that we are neither a Jew nor a Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. That somehow it`s possible, not so much to do away with those differences, but nevertheless to find a way to be together around those differences.` Like our lamb ad video table!
So now let us hear from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans who were also going through times of upheaval.
Second reading: Romans 13:8-14
I wonder if Paul`s image of putting on the armour of light would have jolted ironically back then when the word armour would have been associated with Roman soldiers as agents of oppression?
So I`d like to pause here and reshape this image metaphorically and ask you to
Think about some dark times in your life and how you felt.
- Where, how, in what ways did you find an armour of light?
- What words would you associate with putting on [the mantle of] Jesus the Christ?
On Tuesday in our `With Love to the World` group Linda shared a person`s story with us which gave us a different perspective and I asked her if she would be willing to repeat for all of us today
Linda`s story (about a Charlottesville African American woman`s childhood experience of the `black church`
where people intentionally armoured themselves with love as protection when living in an environment of violence and hatred).