Sunday, December 26, 1999

"Old News Travels Fast"
Sermon Preached by
The Rev. Dr. Andrew Stirling
on Sunday, December 26, 1999
at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church
TEXT: Isaiah 11:1-9

It was a very warm June afternoon and I was sitting on the back steps of a house looking out onto the north shore of the waters of Bermuda, the crystal clear waters and I was just enjoying being on vacation and being home from university and having no demands on my time. I was living, as they used to say, the life of Riley and I was enjoying every minute of it.

Till all of a sudden the phone rang and it was a very good friend of mine who at the time was working as a sexton at the courthouse in Hamilton, Bermuda, and he said, "Andrew, you've got to get down here right away, this minute, I have a story for you the likes of which you wouldn't believe." Now he knew that at that time I was actually considering being a broadcaster and was in training and had my papers as an interviewer and so he thought maybe this would be the kind of story that would set me on the path or on the way.

And so I rushed down on my bicycle to the courthouse and I hopped out and there were two men being led from the back of a van into the courthouse. These were two men were the suspects for having assassinated the Governor of Bermuda. Nobody knew about this except myself and so I stood there and I asked one of the guards the names of the two gentlemen who had been charged and what was going to transpire and the guard, of course, unsuspecting because I was a university student, told me the whole story. I immediately got back on my bicycle, came home, got on the telephone to CHSJ Television in Saint John, New Brunswick and I said, "Have I got a story for you. I know the names of the people charged for the assassination of the Governor of Bermuda." They said, "Give us thirty seconds, stay on the phone and you're going live." And lo and behold right there, knees knocking in my shorts, my hair all tussled, no notes prepared whatsoever, I go live to air to give the story, the international scoop no less of who was being charged for the assassination of the Governor of Bermuda.

Unbeknownst to me within a matter of hours, my photograph was appearing on television screens across the country, my voice was giving the blow-by-blow description of what these two men looked like and what was going to transpire and I had, unbeknownst to me, an international scoop that was getting me all over the world. And I couldn't believe what had transpired and I was astonished that a simple telephone call to a producer in New Brunswick from my little house in Bermuda could travel so quickly and the word would get out with such magnitude. All within a matter of hours, all the big reporters and the cameras were there and the networks were there, but I had been first. I had been first.

It's amazing how quickly news travels. That was well over twenty years ago and I cannot help but think now if a similar story were to happen, it would be on the Internet in minutes. The world knows about what is happening in Chechnya or in Athens or in Rome within a matter of seconds, never mind minutes or hours, such is the nature of the speed with which news travels.

But it also seems to me that despite the speed with which everything moves, there is also something lost. There is a depth, I think that is lost, in terms of our knowledge of what is transpiring. That at times we do not look at the depth of a story or the meaning of a story, we simply just have the story prima facie and that is it.

And I think over the last few days I've been sitting back thinking a great deal about the past, say, thousand years and to think that things that happened in 1000 AD were of such magnitude and yet it seems that it has almost taken a thousand years for me to know it.

Do you realize that in the year 1000, the Chinese discovered gunpowder and how it really works. That 1000 years ago there was an Indian mathematician called Srihara who discovered the importance of zero in mathematical terms. That a thousand years ago, the Saxons moved into Britain and started to establish themselves there. I mean, a thousand years ago, and these are things that were to have implications for the next millennium. Gunpowder had a devastating and a revolutionary effect in this millennium. Zero and the role of mathematics and of infinity, have played an enormous role in the development of mathematics and thought, and the Saxons in Britain were, what can I say having been one of their successors, we rose to the highest heights, did we not!

But it's incredible. Or to think of a hundred years ago even, a hundred years ago the first Zeppelin was tested and the first trial flight. A hundred years ago Puccini's Tosca was performed for the first time. Chekhov's Uncle Vanya was written. The World Exposition was in Paris. A hundred years ago, these things took place. I mean, we lose at times, with the speed in which things occur, the sense of the depth of time, the depth of meaning that takes place.

And this morning I want to ask ourselves, as Canadians, and I am speaking to a Canadian audience, what news do we really want to hear as we enter into a new millennium. What depths do we need to go to in order that we might indeed build on a foundation that is not just superficial and fast, but is rooted and grounded in something of meaning and substance? And I've been thinking this past week about our nation and what the last hundred years has meant to our nation. I think we're somewhere in between two quotes that were given. The first quote was, Wilfred Laurier said that the 20th century would be Canada's. Remember that? I don't think it has quite been that, it's been a great century, but maybe the 20th century hasn't exactly been ours.

But nor am I as pessimistic as Stuart Keat who said that Canada is like vichyssoise, it is cold, it is half French and we're difficult to stir! We're somewhere in between this, are we not?

The century that we have had has been a fascinating one for us, but I think as a nation, we need to ask ourselves questions, what are the deep things that we now carry on? What are the things that are meaningful for us if we are going to have a civilized and a wonderful and a God-filled society?

Well I take as my lead the passage which again was good news, the passage from Isaiah, Chapter 11. Isaiah 11 is known as a Davidic oracle, an oracle of the coronation of a king and it was probably written at a time when King Ahaz had been king and there was a new king that was going to be crowned and David has, or Isaiah has this vision of a new Davidic kingdom rising up, that there will be a new vice-regent for God who will reign, who will come from the shoot and the stem of Jessie, someone who will be wise and powerful, who will judge in a righteous way, who will be on the side of those who are poor, who will be able to bring reconciliation and peace into the land. Now whether he was writing about Hezekiah or not, we don't know, but what we do know is this has been interpreted as a messianic passage, as a passage of God coming as a king and reigning and re-establishing the throne of David. And from that throne of David, from that kingly messianic belief, there are three great themes that arise, themes that are deep and are rich, themes that make your life and mine, I think, more meaningful, and these I think are three things that are pieces of news that we as a nation need to cleave onto.

And the first of these is that wisdom, wisdom comes from faithfulness. Wisdom comes from faithfulness. As I said, news moves quickly today. So does information. Everybody wants it. Everybody grabs it. Those who have it, have power, those who do not have the information do not. Those that have access to the means of that information have power, those who do not have access, do not, and yet for all the information that we have, the one thing I feel at times that we lack is wisdom and wisdom is what do we do with the information that we have been given. How do we use it for good? How do we propagate it for the sake of others? That is one of the great questions of our time. And the fact is that wisdom, biblically speaking, is not something that we acquire, it is something we receive. It is given to us by the spirit of God.

And so for the writer of Isaiah, he is saying the new king, the new ruler will have to have this wisdom, will have to be imbued by the spirit of God, for David had this wisdom even as a young boy, look how he dealt with Goliath. Jesus had this wisdom, look how he went into the temple and mesmerized the religious leaders with his knowledge of scripture and understanding. You see, wisdom comes from God. Wisdom comes from the spirit.

Just recently I was told the story of a young boy called Gilbert, and Gilbert illustrates the story perfectly. Gilbert was a boy who belonged to the Cubs, the Cub Scouts, and after one session, the leader of the pack gave all the boys something to take home, a wooden box, a piece of paper and four wheels. And they were told to go home and to make something wonderful with this that they would then race a few days later.

So young Gilbert goes home with this box and the paper and the wheels and he sits down and he asks his father if he will help him make something from this. And his father says, "Oh, I'm too busy, I have work to do, I can't be bothered with you, Gilbert, why don't you just go ahead and do it on your own," and so for days, the box and the paper and the wheels just sat in a corner, nothing happened with them. Until finally, Gilbert's mother came up to him and said, "Gilbert, are you going to do anything with the box and the paper and the wheels?" And Gilbert said, "I don't know what to do, I need someone to help me."

And so she went and she got some plans and she sat down with Gilbert and over the next few days, the mother and the son worked together to create this little go-cart. And oh, Gilbert was so pleased with it. The wheels went fine, there was some proper steering, he was ecstatic with this. He even called it the Blue Lightning, the Blue Lightning.

And so on the day of the race, he came with Blue Lightning and he arrived and all the other boys were there but they were there with their fathers and all of them were beautifully painted and all of them had aerodynamic gadgets to them and all of them had very wonderful names and Gilbert looked at his poor Blue Lightning and he looked at all these other wonderful go-carts and he thought, "I don't stand a chance" and he looked devastated. All the other boys were there with their fathers. Even if they were from single homes, they were there with their uncles or their cousins, but Gilbert was just there on his own and his mother stood in the stands and Gilbert looked humiliated.

And finally they came to the race, and the race began and it was a knock-out competition and believe it or not, Gilbert kept winning, and so it finally came down to Gilbert and one other boy who had the splashiest looking
fire-engine red go-cart, the likes of which you've never seen. He and his engineering father had put together a masterpiece, and just before the race, Gilbert said, "Excuse me, I've got to go and do something. May I just have a moment of prayer?" And so Gilbert went away and he had a moment of prayer and he came back and he says, "All right, I'm ready." So Gilbert in Blue Lightning and this other boy, Trevor, in this red, wonderful vehicle, went down the hill at enormous speed and lo and behold, Gilbert won and the Cub leader came up to him afterwards and said, "I see, Gilbert, so you prayed for God to give you the power to win, did you?" And Gilbert said, "No, actually I didn't, I just asked him that if I lost, I wouldn't cry."

For a moment, Gilbert had turned to his heavenly Father in his need. Gilbert had a wisdom. He had an insight. He was not just looking for success or power, he wasn't just looking to win, he understood his need and he had the wisdom to turn to his God. You see true wisdom is that kind of wisdom. It is not wisdom that the world gives, it is the wisdom which God gives. This is a lesson we all need to learn.

But there is also another lesson here. The justice, justice comes from compassion, the justice comes from compassion. Isaiah wrote of the Messiah that when he comes, he will be a man of great counsel and he will not judge simply by what he hears or by what he sees or by rumour, but rather with righteousness he will judge, with righteousness he will judge. And Jesus for all his love and for all his compassion, whenever he did judge, judged on the basis of that compassion and the history of the line of David is that justice is always born out of compassion.

Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in one of the greatest examples of justice that the world has ever known. It comes from Solomon and many of you will have heard this before.

In the book of Solomon there is a problem that Solomon is confronted with. There are two prostitute women who have both conceived children and give birth to children on exactly the same day and one of these babies unfortunately within a day or so dies. And so they come up to Solomon and they ask him a question because there is a debate. The other mother has come and stolen the child, even though she had lost her own and no one knew which mother the baby belonged to and Solomon had to decide which mother was the real mother of the baby that existed. And so he asked this question, and he thought greatly about it and he said, "I have made my decision. We will simply have to cut the baby into two so each of the mothers will have a part of the child." And one of the mothers wailed out, "Oh, no, you're not going to do that, I don't care if the other woman has the child or not, you are not going to destroy the baby." And Solomon said, now I know then who the real mother is, for she has true compassion for the child.

That is the wisdom you see of Solomon. It is the wisdom that it is compassion, that it is love which is at the foundation of justice. And love, the true meaning of love, the true heart of love comes from Almighty God. In other words, can we have true justice if we do not have a belief and a faith and a knowledge of God. For Solomon the answer would be no. For Jesus the answer would be no. True justice arises from the compassion of God. Therein lies the justice that our nation needs.

But there are some who scoff and think it's not necessary. There's a wonderful story of a man who was arrested in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England and when he went to the Court, he was asked the question, "Who is going to defend you?" and he says, "Oh, I don't need a defender. The Lord," he said, "will be my defender." And the judge looked at him quizzically and said, "Are you absolutely sure now, you're in a court of law here, you have an opportunity to go and get an advocate to come on your behalf," and the guy from Newcastle said, "No, no, no, no, the Lord is my defender," and the judge said to him, "Well, I suggest that you go and acquire someone who's known better around here locally."

Is that not one of the great challenges for the church as we enter a new era in our country, that the knowledge of God needs to be known locally in order that we might have a just and a fair and an equitable world. You see the Messiah, it was believed, would judge with equity. The Messiah would come and judge on the side of the poor, that the tyrants would have their day, but the tyrants could not stand the righteousness of God and at the end of the 20th Century, would the tyrants who have been in our midst, and oh have they wreaked havoc this century, the tyrants, ultimately, never prevail because God's justice and God's compassion is always, always at the end.

And there is one final thing that this great Messiah brings us and that is that reconciliation between peoples is always based on a knowledge of God. Reconciliation is always based on a knowledge of God. I think the most beautiful passage in this Isaiah is the way in which poetically he has nature coming together, the world gathering when the Messiah comes. That the lamb will be able to sit down with the lion, that the goat will be able to sit down with the wolf, that the child will be able to sit down even in the den of the cobra. This is the vision of the Messiah, that that which is broken is reunited, that which is divided is ultimately brought together. And you know when we look at the world in which we live and everybody thinks that simply by information, simply by an exchange of ideas, the world comes together, I think this is a facile concept. I think that there is goodness in people communicating, don't misunderstand me, I think it is important for information to be shared, I think it opens the doors of so many things when we see how other parts of the world live, but ultimately, ultimately true reconciliation is found and rooted in the one who made us in the first place, Almighty God.

This past week I listened to an interview with Pierre Berton and it was the strangest program, I think it was Mike Bullard Live and if any of you have seen Mike Bullard Live, well it's an experience, that's about all I can say. And I was listening to him and there was a very serious moment though in the interview and Mike Bullard asked Pierre Berton, he said, "When do you think Canada was at its greatest, when as a nation were we at its strongest?" and he said, "Actually at the beginning of this century, not at the end," said Pierre Berton. He said, "We were actually perhaps internationally recognized after Vimy, that was perhaps our highest moment in this century." And Pierre Berton then made the comment and it really resounded with me, he said, "You know for all that Canada is known and respected world wide, there is a growing hardness of heart within our land. There is sometimes a sense in which we're so embroiled in the world in which we live, so full of ourselves that we forget at times what is also wrong in our land and what needs to be put right."

And I think as we here now gather at the end of this century and this millennium and we look forward to the future that the message of the Messiah is still loud and clear. The Messiah brings people together. The Messiah does it through himself. I sometimes fear - if I can just be personal with you for a moment - I sometimes fear that we are developing as a nation a bit of a hardness, a bit of a coldness. When we see some of our own suffering, we're slow to respond. We try and look at every reason why we can't rather than every reason why we should. I think that there are things in our land that need to be healed. They need to be healed in the name of the Messiah. I think our homeless problem is classic. There's not a lot of outrage about this. There are a lot of mentally ill people, people who are struggling, people who have no home in their hearts, never mind where their feet lie, who need a place to stay, who need to be cared for.

There are young families in this land right now who are really struggling. Not just single parent families, although they I think, often struggle the most, but we have a lot of disintegration within our family lives in this nation and I just think nobody really wants to stand up and say it for all manner of reasons, whether it be political correctness or just the financial cost of having to deal with it, but somebody sometime will have to address this as we go into a new millennium. The care that we share for one another in this land, from one coast to the other, from one southern part to the most northern part, is also necessary.
For all the contacts that we have through the Internet around the world, as a nation, as a people, we still need to connect with one another, we need to understand the peoples that have come to this land. There is a great encyclopedia written about this, but it is something that we need to understand and appreciate and enjoy because the Messiah brings people together. We cannot do it without God. We cannot have that justice without God. We cannot have that compassion without God, we cannot have that wisdom without God, and if there is any reason for us to worship Jesus Christ this day, it is to bring the good news, the old news of that God which travels fast into this land which God loved so much. May the words of the prophet Isaiah resound in our hearts and may the spirit of the Lord be alive in our midst. Amen.