Waiting impatiently in the Doctor’s waiting room, I thumbed through the pile of traditional magazines. Most of them were about twelve months old and most of them dealt with the so called celebrities of screen and stage and how some had lost so many kilos in so many days. Just my kind of reading! And then, right in the middle of the pile, I came across an issue of the Smithsonian magazine with photos of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln on the cover with the caption: “Darwin and Lincoln, born on the same day 200 years ago, they changed the world forever. Their genius, their legacy, their humanity”. I avidly picked it up and, such is the disorganised appointment timetable of most medicos, I was able to read it before I was ushered into the Doctor’s rooms. I was most impressed with the article, so much so, that, to the shock horror of my beloved, I took the magazine home to copy it. I hasten to add that it was duly returned the next day.
I mention all this because the rephrasing the title of the article provides me with a framework for what I want to say this morning
Jesus of Nazareth.
born two thousand one hundred years ago
his genius, his legacy, his humanity.
and, in so far as he reveals the purposes of God, his divinity,
changed the world forever.
This I would submit is a summary of the words we call “The Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth”. Those of you who attended the Lenten series will remember that, after weeks of scriptural analysis, Bill Loader concluded his sessions with the words “The story of Jesus is about change and hope.”
Two things we need to recognise about change
The first is that change is of the nature of life and always has been part of the human condition. Life is dynamic. The world is dynamic. It is in motion. The world changes as we walk in it. Change is the name of the game! The Christian faith likewise is dynamic. Change is so important to Jesus that he talks of it in terms of “being born again”. Or as Alfred North Whitehead put it “Our existence is in our becoming”. We are a work in process. We are moving, we are changing, growing – and this may be for good or bad. There is no denying the dynamics of our existence. And as Somerset Maugham said many years ago “If change is the essence of existence, one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy”.
The second is that if we fail to recognise the centrality of change, we face dire consequences. At exactly 5.13am, the 18th April 1906. a cow was standing somewhere between the main barn and the milking shed on the old Shafter Ranch in California, minding her own business. Suddenly the earth shook, the skies trembled, and when it was all over there was nothing of the cow showing above ground but a bit of her tail sticking up.
The Shafter cow is a sort of symbol for our times. She stood quietly enough, thinking such gentle thoughts as cows are likely to have, while huge forces outside her ken built up all around her and – within a minute – discharged it all at once in a great movement that changed the configuration of the earth, and destroyed a city, and swallowed her up. (1)
I was interested the other day to learn a little known aspect of evolution pointed up by William Jungers. “Evolution is all too often been depicted as a straight line development from knuckle dragging apelike creatures to upright human beings. Jungers maintains that this is “simplicity born of ignorance… There have been many experiments in human evolution and all of them but us have ended in extinction”. I find this a very sobering thought in the light of the contemporary scene where nuclear warfare and climate change offer real possibilities of extinction. We say, of course, that we would not be foolish enough to allow either to happen. Don’t you believe it! If a man has a rock in his hand he will throw it, if he has a club in his hand he will use it, if he has a hydrogen bomb he will, if pushed far enough, drop it. To say that we would not be stupid enough to engage in nuclear warfare goes against everything we know and have experienced of ourselves. The Brits and Cologne, the Americans and Nagasaki it’s all there! To say that we would not be stupid enough to destroy ourselves is probably what the other evolutionary lines would have said had they survived to our stage of development.