We are going to try a thought exercise today. I would like you to take a moment to write down what you believe are the five biggest problems we and our world face at this time. Take a minute to think them out or write them out—the five biggest problems we and our world face. In general, don’t think too hard about it, but just write down the first things that come to mind. [Pause to let people write things down.] Good! Now I want you to write down the next five biggest problems we and our world face. No fair repeating! [Pause to let people write things down.] So, let’s pop up some of the biggest problems we and our world face. Go ahead, let’s name them. The only thing that I ask is that they not be phrased as an attack on someone else. We are not here to be divisive, but to come together to worship God and seek God’s wisdom.
[Take responses from the congregation.]
Thank you for your thoughtfulness. If we look through the list we just created together, there are some things that are just part of living—death, the universe running down, etc—and then there’s everything else. I’m willing to bet that if we were to consider each of these biggest problems, and we tried to come up with solutions, wouldn’t most of our solutions be about fixing things? But the challenges seem so big! Where do we begin?
First, by recognizing that this is not the way things are meant to be. In Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis talks about how in Narnia the trees and rivers used to talk and live, but have fallen asleep because of human ignorance and cruelty. At one point, in her longing, Lucy cries out, “Oh Trees, Trees, Trees…Oh Trees, wake, wake, wake. Don’t you remember it? Don’t you remember me? Dryads and Hamadryads, come out, come to me.” Lucy recognizes that nature used to have more joy, and could again. That’s on Paul’s mind too. According to Paul, in these biggest problems, “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.” But beyond that, weare not the way weare meant to be. Paul continues, “But it’s not only around us; it’s withinus. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.” So the suffering of the world is reflected in our suffering, and our suffering is reflected in the world’s. That we know things could be—even shouldbe—better suggests that God is at work.
Second, we often spend time trying to fix problems without fixing their cause. If we look deeply at almost all of our world’s biggest problems, at the bottom is something wrong in the human heart. Leonard Sweet, the Christian future-caster, wrote, “All the problems of postmodern culture stem from the same root cause: heart disease. Poet/politician Vaclav Havel, when asked how we can escape the horrors facing us in this new world, responds, ‘It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit.’ Our problems are not out there. Our problems are in here.”Paul adds, “So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life.” For those trying to follow Jesus, we aren’t trying to make ourselves better, we are trying to love and follow Jesus more, and letting the way Jesus thinks and acts change who we are from the inside. Jesus’ death on the Cross tells us that we can leave the old, joyless life behind. Jesus’ rising from the grave tells us that we can have a new life of possibility with Jesus at the core and the Spirit beckoning us onward.
Finally, we pray and live the prayer, “Thy will be done Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Lots of us think of heaven as a place—it’s where people go after we die. For sure I agree that God takes care of us after we die, but heaven is way closer than that! Jesus believed that heaven and earth are not separate places, but like different, interwoven dimensions living in the same space. Jesus even said, “The Kingdom of God is within you or among you.” So when we help God’s will be done on earth—when we love on each other and love on our planet—we are really making the Kingdom of God—heaven!—visible for everyone to see. So you see, caring for our planet and for each other is not an optional thing for Christians, it’s part of how we reflect the goodness of God and the love of Jesus Christ.
In Prince Caspian, Queen Lucy is the one who sees, she sees the trees as they once were, she says Aslan (the Christ-figure) when nobody else does, and eventually she rides on Aslan’s back as He restores Narnia to its wild and awakened state and as He invites the invaders to experience the joy of the land. Lucy sees with the eyes of faith, and because of her faith, others begin to see. That’s part of the mission of this church—really of any church—to love on each other and our world in such a way that others begin to see. In his fabulous book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “Good things as well as bad, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to get wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them….They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.” We are called to be a people for whom grace is contagious, not just to change people’s lives, but in so doing to care for the planet we share.