Creating a New Civilization: God’s Realm on Earth, Part I
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
June 16, 2019
First Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 8; Acts 4:31-35; I John 3:14-17; John 16:12-15
Twelve years ago on Trinity Sunday I preached a sermon inspired by the same passage from the book of Acts that I shared with the children today, the story of how the disciples created a completely different way to live from the established culture of Israel or Rome.
The sermon in 2007 was entitled “The Making of a Counter-Culture.” I said, “To live in our society is to be complicit in war, the destruction of God’s Creation and the oppression of the poor. If we are going to call ourselves followers of Christ, we need to end our complicity. We need to find a way to live differently from the dominant culture around us. We need to become a counter-culture.
“The Book of Acts is not meant to be an instruction manual on counter-culture, but the making of a counter-culture is what it and most of the New Testament is all about. Jesus came proclaiming to the realm of Herod and Caesar that the counter-realm of God was at hand. He lived as if already in that realm, and taught us to do the same.”
That was twelve years ago, and I thought that I would preach on something similar today, but as I thought about it I realized that I had to change the title and the core message.
We have entered a new era in history and it is no longer enough to create a counter-culture. We no longer have the time to set a good example and wait for the world to notice. We need to change the way of life that is destroying our life-support systems on this one and only planet that we have. The lives of all species and all future generations are at stake.
The good news is that we have the scientific and technological know-how to save those lives, and we have the spiritual wisdom handed down through our tradition. We have two world-saving documents, a Global Ethic and an Earth Charter, that have been drafted and endorsed by leaders around the world in recent years. We have the work of Gus Speth and his colleagues who have been thinking in careful detail about the new systems we need and the change of consciousness they will require. Our congregation has been part of a global conversation about creating a Golden Civilization that is arriving at the same vision in every nation.
We know what we need to do and we know how to do it. The problem is that we face fierce resistance from the fossil fuel industry and those in power today who profit from the existing violent, inequitable, earth-destroying system. They have spent billions of dollars over decades on propaganda, creating a media empire that has shaped the perspective of a large minority of our country. They have undermined democracy in order to grab and hold onto power. We are in a culture war with everything at stake, a war that we cannot afford to lose.
So the title of this sermon is not “The Making of a Counter-Culture.” It is “Creating a New Civilization: God’s Realm on Earth.” That is what Jesus and Paul and St. Francis and St. Teresa of Ávila and Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr. all called us to do. Transforming human civilization into God’s realm on earth is what they were building toward, and they dreamed of the day when a generation would rise and finally make the love of neighbor, compassion and the Golden Rule the laws of the whole human race.
They did more than dream of it, they worked toward it day and night. They risked, sacrificed and laid down their lives for it. They moved us closer to it, and they believed with all their hearts that it was possible, that it could be done, and that someday it would be done.
The day for that vision’s fulfillment has arrived. It is up to our generation. I have complete faith that we can do it. It is what the evolution of human consciousness has been preparing us to do. But we must choose to do it with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, willing to do what this time demands of us.
The Book of Proverbs began being compiled three thousand years ago, and its wisdom had been handed down through countless generations before that. By the time it reached its present form 2500 years ago it represented a global ethic, containing the wisdom of many cultures. Like the Asian religion of Taoism, Proverbs observed a pattern or sacred way that could be traced through human society and all of nature. It called that Way by the name “Wisdom” and personified her. We heard her today crying out to all who live to choose her way for it is the path of justice and a healthy, sustainable life for all.
The reason why the sages of ancient Israel compiled this wisdom is the same reason why we need it still, because humanity keeps falling over and over again onto the foolish path that leads to death. And yet as each generation engages in the culture war of the way of life versus the way of death we grow in wisdom.
Jesus came along five hundred years after the Book of Proverbs was completed and translated ancient wisdom into new forms. He took the laws of love that Moses gave and expanded and clarified their meanings and showed what it meant to live by them.
His followers a generation later wrote, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death…. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
This is not just a description of a virtuous way to live, it is an expression of an eternal truth, a pattern of inherent wisdom in the universe. Every life form works this way or it dies. Think of your own body. When your blood sugar cries out that it needs a boost, when your stomach moans that it is hungry, your mind and hands do not refuse to help, they get busy working on lunch. Think of the robins nesting under the eaves of the church who lay down their lives to bring their hatchlings worms. Think of the sacrifices fathers make and of Meg Albee’s poem about a mother’s work. Here is a short excerpt of what Meg wrote:
I gently tucked aside
my own education,
my pursuit of career,
my dreams to be a writer,
even to have a family,
I tucked aside
and then my thirties
my life plans
with a sensible order and direction.
And I took on the work
of becoming a mother.
Jesus said love your neighbor as your self which is what Meg is describing and what the different members of our body do. Another way is to do what the early church did—they pooled everything they owned so that they were one economic self. They met every member’s needs and used what was left over to expand the walls of their self and lift others to health and sufficiency.
Wisdom says we are one body, the body of all living things on earth, we are all together one manifestation of God’s life wrapped in a thin, fragile cell membrane of atmosphere.
The good, hopeful news is that more and more people are recognizing this today. Social scientists can measure the developmental evolution of human consciousness, and an increasing percentage of humanity is attaining the universalizing or nondual stage that experiences the oneness of all creation.
Jesus prophesied that the Spirit of Truth would continue to help us evolve, and that is happening. It still is hard to follow the path of Wisdom. Fear or greed or selfishness still leads us to choose the foolish path of death. It still is hard to imagine that we will actually succeed at creating the new civilization of God’s realm on earth.
And yet the Spirit can help us imagine it. The followers of Jesus were mostly uneducated, lower middle class, conforming Jews. The Gospel shows them being as fearful, greedy and selfish as anyone. Yet when they opened to the Spirit, they created a dynamic new society based on Christ’s love.
The American Civil Rights Movement was made up mostly of oppressed, poor, powerless people who faced impossible odds, but the Spirt came into them and they organized nonviolent campaigns based on the love of enemies and the Golden Rule, and they succeeded in revolutionizing not only the nation’s laws but also human consciousness, lifting millions of people to a new way of seeing that recognized not just all races but all people as worthy of being treated as equals, including women and people of all sexual orientations.
The Spirit can help us imagine going another step forward now, where the majority of people all over the world see the sacred oneness of life and demand that our leaders and governments adopt the new systems and principles that many organizations are now promoting.
In 2007 I quoted from Wendell Berry’s book Blessed Are the Peacemakers. He wrote,
“We all are now complicit in the murder of creation…[And] we don’t know how to extricate ourselves from our complicity very surely or very soon. How could we live without degrading our soils, slaughtering our forest, polluting our streams, poisoning the air and the rain…? How could we live without the war economy and the holocaust of the fossil fuels…? If we take the Gospels seriously, we are left…facing an utterly humbling question: How must we live and work so as not to be estranged from God’s presence in His work and in all His creatures?” (pp 67-68)
Thanks to the wisdom of Wendell Berry and Gus Speth and many other people, we now know far more. We are far wiser today than we were just twelve years ago. We know now how to extricate ourselves from our old ways, both very surely and very soon. The book that we will be studying today after refreshments can guide our church be part of the movement to create a new civilization, to establish God’s realm on earth.
As its author, the Rev. Jim Antal says, “We can do this, together.”
Let us pray in silence saying yes not with a word but with the wordless opening of our heart to the Spirt…