Sermons

Sun, Apr 09, 2017

Safety and security at all cost?

Series:Sermons

Well, Easter is almost upon us.

And the supermarket shelves are packed with chocolate eggs…

rabbits…

bilbies…

footballs…

and even Star Wars characters––

what they have to do with Easter, God alone knows!

And most of us will buy quite a few for our families and friends.

But one thing that you may find hard to unearth…

amidst all of the brightly coloured foil and packaging…

is a chocolate Easter egg that is ethically certified––

not just certified Fair Trade…

but also certified Slavery-Free.

It may come as a shock to you to realise…

that only three per cent of the global chocolate supply…

is certified to have been harvested without the use of child or slave labour.

Most of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa––

from Ghana and Ivory Coast in particular––

where children as young as eight are taken from their families to work in cocoa fields.

A former Prime Minister of Ivory Coast has confirmed that…

if chocolate companies paid fair prices for cocoa…

at least child labour could be eliminated.

And that wouldn’t take much.

A fraction of what is spent on advertising chocolate would do it––

perhaps less than an extra five cents per Easter egg––

could clean up the supply chain.

Eliminating slavery would be a little harder––

and that’s where buying certified slavery-free products is vital…

to force the chocolate companies to act.

But, in reality, how many of us actually care?

How many of us go out of our way…

or would pay a bit more…

to ensure that our chocolates were ethically certified products?

Let’s be honest…

as a nation, we are, on the whole, quite apathetic––

at least when it comes to doing something.

No matter what we might think…

no matter what we might believe…

seldom does that translate into genuine, concrete action.

On so many matters of social justice and civil rights…

we like to make symbolic gestures––

we’re good at talking the talk…

we’re quick to offer an opinion…

or mouth confronting, comforting, or consoling words…

but we don’t want to leave our comfort zones…

let alone have to make sacrifices.

We want things to change…

we want the world to be a better, fairer place…

but we don’t want it to cost us anything.

And don’t we see that every time that there is an election?

Politicians continually pander to our hip-pockets…

rather than do what needs to be done.

We have seen that time and time again throughout history.

And, leaving aside all of the theologically-inspired embellishments…

and all of the narrative hyperboles…

I believe that we see it very clearly in the story of Palm Sunday.

This story is inherently, overtly, and unambiguously political.

In a wonderful piece of satirical street-theatre…

Jesus hops onto a donkey and rides into Jerusalem…

traversing a carpet of cloaks and olive branches…

cheered on by a crowd of rural peasants…

and causing consternation among the more sophisticated urbanites.

In hearing this story––

thanks to many a sermon over the years––

we tend to focus on the crowd…

and yet, in so doing, we don’t hear this story as first century people would have.

Thus, many a time, I have head the crowd described as fickle––

acclaiming Jesus one minute then crying out, “crucify him” the next.

But no!

They’re not fickle––

at least not in the version of the story that we heard this morning from Matthew’s Gospel.

In this account, the residents of Jerusalem don’t welcome him.

The residents of Jerusalem don’t acclaim him.

That’s done by the travelling mob of rural peasants…

and by the disciples of Jesus.

At best, the residents of Jerusalem are confused––

not quite sure what to make of it all…

and not quite sure what to make of him.

No doubt some––

if not most or even all of them––

would have recognised the biting satire and the political parody.

They would have recognised that Jesus was mockingly imitating a Roman Emperor…

entering the city in triumph like after a great victory…

but doing so on a donkey––

on a peasant’s beast of burden––

while surrounded and cheered on by a bunch of dirty, scruffy peasants;

rather than astride an elegant, noble, stallion…

and surrounded by fearsome soldiers in glistening armour.

They would have understood––

quite clearly––

the intended political message.

This was a satirical critique of Roman rule and Roman power.

Indeed, it was, in fact, a critique of the way in which power is exercised generally.

They would also have recognised that in parodying political power…

he was challenging the control of the religious establishment––

the collusion of Temple and state––

and they would have been afraid.

Parodying coercive power…

exposing self-interested collusion…

holding political leaders up for ridicule and holding them accountable…

has costs and consequences.

For some in the crowd it may have stirred their hopes for freedom…

even their latent nationalistic fervour;

but, in so doing, it was also suggesting a very different way of achieving it––

not through force or violence…

but through peaceful resistance…

and by speaking truth to power no matter what the cost.

However much they understood…

however much they sympathised and appreciated the symbolism…

in the end––

like those who were afraid…

or those who had a vested interest in the status quo––

they sided with the powers-that-be.

They opted for safety and security––

and for prosperity and political stability––

rather than taking a risk.

They opted for the status quo…

rather than making a sacrifice––

a personal sacrifice––

baulking at the prospect of actually doing something that would involve significant change…

or that would have an impact on them and their way of life.

 

Has anything really changed?

 

Symbolically and narratively…

as we draw nearer to Jerusalem and to another Easter…

perhaps we need to ask ourselves…

are we any different from those crowds?

And, by that, I don’t mean are we fickle or superficial…

but do we opt for safety and security at all cost?

Do we, too, relish symbols and symbolic acts…

but recoil from real or meaningful action––

whether it be on matters of human rights and civil liberties…

fair treatment of asylum seekers…

marriage equality…

or issues of social justice, reconciliation, and inclusion?

Do we––

by our fear and passivity or our self-interest and apathy––

help to enshrine the status quo…

and maintain a system that we know is broken and that breaks people?

Do we like a religion that meets our psycho-spiritual needs…

that gives us some comfort in the face of our own mortality…

that reinforces our personal sense of worth…

that feeds our vanity or our fragile self-esteem…

that titillates our intellects…

but a religion that doesn’t, ultimately, demand too much of us––

a religion that doesn’t challenge our political persuasions or ideologies…

that doesn’t threaten our way of life…

and certainly one that doesn’t ask us to make any real change…

let alone to make any real sacrifice?

Have we, the Church, become a contradiction to our true calling?

Have we fundamentally failed to grasp what Jesus–– humbly riding a donkey into Jerusalem––

tried to teach us?

Or are we, like Jesus––

symbolically and metaphorically––

willing to mount our donkeys…

and make asses of ourselves?

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