Many of us have probably heard about the flattening of the world. The influence of the web, travel, and telecommunications has created a greater sense of connectivity in what used to be a diffuse world. And yet we still are unaware of what is going on in different parts of this flattened world.
This message on judgmentalism that is evident through ignoring the world around us was actually shared on Human Relations Sunday, the day before we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day. According to the United Methodist Ministries website Human Relations Sunday “is one of the opportunities for United Methodist Churches to celebrate our connectional work. This day of social action and raising awareness aims to heal social ills…”
Last year the World Health Organization listed 17 regions/countries as areas in crisis. Not a single one of them is on our side of the Atlantic Ocean. They are mostly in the Middle East, African continent, Asia Minor and South Pacific. The main issues are drought, outbreaks of infectious diseases, natural disasters, war displacement, and a general lack of basic health services. During 2013 millions of people contracted an infectious disease and many died from one of them; millions of people had no clean water to drink; millions of people were displaced from their homes. The W.H.O made an appeal for financial assistance totaling nearly $1.2 billion to address these issues. I had no idea…I am going to guess that you didn’t either.
Ignore happens to be the root word to ignorance and we like to claim that ignorance is bliss. To ignore something means to refuse to show that you hear or see; you refuse to acknowledge something or someone. A secondary meaning is to do nothing about or in response to something or someone. It is a failure to acknowledge and/or respond.
I’ve seen several public service announcements encouraging our kids to stand up and speak out especially about bullying. We don’t want them to ignore – to fail to acknowledge or respond. We want them to act and be seekers of justice. Well, what about us adults?
The writer of the Gospel According to Luke records one of many moments when Jesus tells a story to make a point. Two men went to the Temple to pray. One of them was a very devout man; he studied the commandments of God diligently and tried his best to keep every one of them so that he did not offend God by sinning. He was a tither and he fasted. By all accounts he was a pious, righteous man until he prayed. In his prayer he did two things – he boasted to God about his righteousness and he thanked God for not being like the other sinners praying in the Temple, especially the tax man across the way. That was the other guy in Jesus’ story – a tax man. He was one of the most despised persons in his day; the people hated to see him coming! A tax collector in Jesus day was a man who worked for a chief tax collector covering a part of the chief’s territory. The Roman tax bill was paid in advance by the chief and now it was time to collect it from the people – the underling tax collectors were sent out to do the work. To make a living and to pay the chief plus his profits meant that the system was open to abuse. You can see why the people despised tax collectors – they often cheated their own people in order to become wealthy. But the tax collector that Jesus describes was one who came to the Temple to repent and pray. He was so remorseful he could not even lift his eyes to heaven; instead he stood with his head lowered and he beat his chest while he asked for God to be merciful to him. The one thing the religious man should have seen was a repentant soul searching for God’s mercy and grace but he ignored the tax collector – he judged him that day as unworthy of his time and attention.
As I mentioned to the congregation the lessons for us are simple:
1) Recognize that we are sinner – be acutely aware of the depth of your own sin!
2) Stop ignoring the world that is around you – acknowledge and respond!
Kurt Vonnegut (American novelist) gave the commencement speech to the 1970 graduating class of Bennington College. Here is a part of what he said to them: “I know that millions of dollars have been spent to produce this splendid graduating class, and that the main hope of your teachers was, once they got through with you, that you would no longer be superstitious. I’m sorry – I have to undo that now. I beg you to believe in the most ridiculous superstition of all: that humanity is at the center of the universe, the fulfiller or the frustrator of the grandest dreams of God Almighty.”
If we continue to ignore the plight of the world that is just a short distance away then we will continue to be the frustrators of “the grandest dreams of God.” I pray that we acknowledge and respond to the world; that we take up the role of being the center of the universe by fulfilling God’s grand dream of redemption and restoration.
So will you continue to ignore the world hoping that you will live in bliss or will you acknowledge and respond to the broken world around you knowing that you play a role in its healing? I hope you choose to be a fulfiller!
Blessings for the journey.