Sermon from May 17, 2020

The Spirit of Truth Awakens
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
May 17, 2020    Sixth Sunday of Easter, Pentecost Preparation Sunday
Acts 17:22-30; John 7:37-39b, 14:15-20, 25-26

[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here.]

Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the exhilaration of voting for the first time in South Africa.  People waited for hours in miles-long lines to cast their ballot.  They went in to the voting station oppressed, powerless people and came out a minute later transformed into free, empowered citizens of a new country.  Tutu burst out of the door shouting “Yippee!!!” like a schoolboy and joined the dancing in the street.

Nelson Mandela became President after whites had held him in prison for 27 years.  Countless thousands of his people had been tortured and murdered and all had been treated little better than slaves.  White South Africans were justifiably afraid of retribution.  Mandela shocked everyone, black and white, with the Spirit of oneness that flowed through him, a Spirit of Truth and Reconciliation.  The culture of a nation changed overnight because of that Holy Spirit.

Last Sunday some of us expressed concern that human civilization will not learn from this pandemic and will continue its old ways of social injustice and environmental destruction.  The evils of those ways have been made clear, but it is not clear how we are going to reverse them and build a new world that is sustainable, resilient, healthy and one.

We are up against the most powerful force of evil the world has ever seen and it is not giving up.  The dictionary defines evil as profoundly immoral, malevolent or harmful.  The willful destruction of the the earth, driving all species including our own toward extinction, is by definition evil.  Depriving the suffering poor and middle class and favoring instead the super-wealthy and mega-corporations is evil.  Purposefully weakening democracy and disenfranchising citizens of their right to vote in order to strengthen autocratic control and oppress those citizens with economic inequity and environmental destruction is evil.

Evil is nothing new.  The Hebrew prophets arose in response to evil and countered it with ideals of compassion, justice, the golden rule, love of neighbor and preferential care for the vulnerable and oppressed.

Jesus spoke out vehemently against evil and directed us to fight it starting in the heart, mind and soul, because it is from there that it arises.  That is why Gus Speth and thousands of other leading thinkers of the modern age have said that we will not make the changes necessary to save the earth unless we have a spiritual awakening, a developmental leap of consciousness.

Gus has identified six ingredients needed to change our collective consciousness: 1. awareness of a calamity; 2. wise leaders; 3. a new narrative and positive vision; 4. one unified social justice and environmental movement; 5. effective social marketing; 6. and a proliferation of models of a new way of living.

The Spirit of Truth awakened us in October of 2018 through a major international study giving a much shorter timeframe for the climate calamity.  I spoke with Gus not long after the report and suggested that we needed a central information exchange where concerned people around the world could learn about one another’s actions and coordinate our campaigns as a unified movement.

Gus told me about Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World.  I have finally read it and I highly recommend it.  Bill Coffin liked to say, “while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful.”  Blessed Unrest shines a brilliant light of hope.

It dawned on Paul Hawken that there were far more groups working on social justice and the environment than most people knew, so he began a worldwide count.  He realized when he reached 100,000 that it was the largest social movement the world had ever seen, and the number rose to well over a million groups.

He wrote, “As I counted the vast number of organizations it crossed my mind that perhaps I was witnessing the growth of something organic, if not biologic.  Rather than a movement in the conventional sense, could it be an instinctive, collective response to threat…?  Picture the collective presence of all human beings as an organism.  Pervading that organism are intelligent activities, humanity’s immune response to resist and heal the effects of political corruption, economic disease and ecological degradation.” (pp 3 & 12)

Comparing the movement to the intricate workings of the human body he says, “Something operates us, but what?  Is it not the free flow of brilliant and ancient information, and involuntary and endemic intelligence freely exchanged on the cellular and intercellular level?  This is the system in which we should place our faith, because it is the only one that has ever worked eternally.  If this enlightening, enlivening pulse is God, then may we get on our knees and give thanks night and day.” (p 177)

He writes, “It has been said that we cannot save our planet unless humankind undergoes a widespread spiritual and religious awakening…. So let’s ask ourselves this question…: What if there is already in place a largescale spiritual awakening and we are simply not recognizing it…?  If you examine [the movement’s] values, missions, goals and principles…you will see that at the core of all organizations are two principles, albeit unstated: first is the Golden Rule; second is the sacredness of all life, whether it be a creature, child or culture.” (pp 184 & 186)

If Hawken is right, this movement includes everything Gus Speth says we need for the crucial change of consciousness to arise: a rapidly growing awareness of the calamity that we are in; millions of wise leaders; narratives of a new positive vision being widely articulated; a social justice and environmental movement that is united by shared principles of the Golden Rule and love of neighbor and compassion and care for the vulnerable and oppressed, all working to build the same kind of world; each group is speaking out, using social marketing increasingly effectively; and thousands of models of new ways of living are proliferating.  It is all happening now!

The one critique of the book that Gus warned me about is that Hawken seems to speak against a coordinated global campaign.  A careful reading calmed my concern.  Hawken cites the book by our Upper Valley neighbors Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson, How Life Works.  The first principle pattern they identify is that life builds from the bottom up.  I think Hawken would welcome the building of centralized campaigns that bring together all the smaller groups and individuals because that, too, is how life works.  “Life assembles itself into chains; life organizes with information.”  That is how trillions of cells and a multitude of life forms join together to form a human being, and it is how this movement works.

Hawken shares the perspective that I have heard from veterans of the Civil Rights Movement who point out that “Martin didn’t make the movement, the movement made Martin.”

Greta Thunberg was just one articulate, brave teenager with autism holding up a hand painted sign outside the Swedish parliament every Friday, but because millions of people and tens of thousands of groups were ready and she was ready, they lifted her to lead.  Malala Yousafzai was an articulate, brave Pakistani teenager who spoke out in favor of education for girls and was shot by the Taliban for it.  She did not make the movement for human rights, the movement made her the international leader that she is.

One crucial truth Hawken wants us to hear is that no leader is going to be able to help us change the world if we have not changed our own consciousness and joined with others, giving all the gifts, resources, talents, time and energy we have, laying down our lives, doing what we love most and do best in order to help in our small way.  And a second crucial truth is that, as we do this, we are part of the largest, most powerful social movement that the world has ever seen.

Hawken ends the book saying, “I believe this movement will prevail…. I mean that the thinking that informs the movement’s goals will reign. It will soon suffuse most institutions, but before then, it will change a sufficient number of people so as to begin the reversal of centuries of frenzied self-destruction behavior…. What will guide us is a living intelligence that creates miracles every second, carried forth by a movement with no name.” p 189-190

The Holy Spirit needs us to open to it and let it work through us.  It is here right now, within and around us all, and it wants us to succeed in healing and transforming the world to be God’s realm of love and life and light.  We cannot know how this will happen, but we can trust that the Spirit will guide us to the structure and leaders we need if we keep trusting in it and working with it.

Let us pray in silence, asking the Spirit of Truth to awaken us and show us what we can do now…

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