Prophecy and protest

A sermon based on Micah 4:1-5 preached shortly after I returned from participating in the public demonstration at the CoP 26 meeting in Glasgow.

I came across this passage when I was still wondering whether to pick up on the theme of remembrance for this service. It was suggested in some Methodist resources for remembrance services last year. You may well recognise the words but be surprised that they are attributed to Micah because they are very similar to those in a similar passage in Isaiah (2:2-4). My Bible commentary suggests that the passage probably doesn’t originate with either prophet, and was probably added several hundred years afterwards when the books that we now regard as the Old Testament were first collated. The history need not concern us however, the real question is how a passage that was probably written about 2,500 years ago speaks to us today.

The passage is clearly visionary and metaphorical in nature. The passage starts off,

In days to come the mountain where the Temple stands
    will be the highest one of all, towering above all the hills.

Any Israelite of the time would know that the Temple stands on a hill rather than a mountain. It is overlooked by surrounding hills including the Mount of Olives. We don’t have to spend time worrying about whether this passage is a foretelling some enormous earthquake that is going to lift that mountain up above all the others. It is instead, clearly poetic language to designate the importance of the Temple in which God was regarded to dwell.

It is to this hill to which the prophet envisages the nations of the world come streaming to seeking out Israel’s God. They are intent on listening to his teaching and learning how to walk in the paths that he has chosen. He will settle disputes amongst nations in such a way that peace will reign, and there will be no need for swords or spears which can be hammered into ploughs or pruning hooks. Everyone will then live in peace in their own vineyards and fig trees free from fear of hostility.

It’s an amazing vision isn’t it. A vision of all the countries of the world coming to one place to meet together and learn what God wants and then to plan how to put it into action. It’s particularly amazing given a time in history when it would have been incredibly rare for any two powers to come together as equals to discuss their common interests, let alone all the peoples of the world. It is also notable that it is the people of the world who are coming together not just their leaders. The existence of this passage at all is an outstanding testimony to what Walter Brueggemann has termed the prophetic imagination – the ability to paint a picture of how the world should be rather than how it is.

Today this is a vision that is much easier to imagine, indeed we are someway there already. The leaders of the world, or most of them, have streamed to the CoP meeting that is currently being held in Glasgow. They’ve come to seek out the truth about the situation we are in and to learn how we must live to thrive together, in our own vineyards and under our own fig trees. We don’t have to imagine the world coming together we see examples of it happening. We must recognise this partial progress towards the vision of Micah and Isaiah and give thanks, but we’ve also got to recognise the vision as partial, and proclaim our understanding of its shortcomings.

Firstly, it is not all the nations of the world. Some of the most powerful nations have chosen not to attend including Russia, Japan, Brazil, Iran, Mexico and South Africa. Others, like China, have sent delegations but chosen not to send their heads of state. Many smaller poorer nations are also not attending or have very small representation because of the cost of being here or the labyrinthine visa regulations that the UK has imposed over the last few years.

Secondly, it is not the nations of the world but their leaders. There is overwhelming support from opinion polling across the world that ordinary people recognise the dangers we are facing and want their politicians to come up with solutions, even if some of these might affect our standard of living. The leaders of these countries seem more interested in secondary political and economic concerns that effectively impose barriers in achieving what their people want.

Thirdly and most importantly these talks are corrupted by the dark powers of wealth and self-interest and are not truly seeking what God wants or the world needs. Because they can afford it there are far more representatives from the rich polluting world who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo than there are from the global south where the effects of climate change are most common and most devastating. Decisions are skewed to favour the interests of the wealthy and powerful rather than the poor and vulnerable – and that is not what God wants.

The issues become even more stark when we recognise that as well as national representatives there are also representatives from commerce and business, again primarily from the biggest corporations who can afford to buy a seat at the table. You may be shocked to hear that more than 500 lobbyists from the fossil fuel companies who have been granted access to the talks, more than the entire delegations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Mozambique, Myanmar, Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. The perpetrators are heard, the victims excluded.

For those of us who share Micah’s vision of how the world should be and are aware of how far the CoP 26 meeting is from this, there is a responsibility to speak out and draw the world’s attention to this short-coming. That’s why I believe that the protest that I and 100,000 others attended in Glasgow last Saturday is so important. We need to make it clear to our leaders, and to the people of the world, that what we want is to love mercy, act justly and to walk humbly with our God.

I thought I’d share a few photographs of the demonstration. Some taken by me, some garnered off the Internet. The first thing is to express just how many people were there. The route was over 2½ miles long and the leaders of the march had completed it before the tail-end had left the starting point. I know because I was waiting for a long time towards the back while all those groups in front moved on. This short is a short video clip I took about half-way round looking forward and backward during a pause in the movement.

There is always a lot of humour on demonstrations like this. Here is a highly localised placard – Dinnae deep-fry yer planet.

Later we came across these amazing caricatures of five of the individuals who have done most damage to the planet who were walking in chains as if having been arrested by the crowd.

There are times of poignancy as well. One of the most powerful aspects of the demonstration to me was the number of parents who had taken young children along. In many ways it is those children who are going to suffer most from the problems we are creating.

One fantastic aspect of the protests was the prominence of Christians and members of other faiths. This is actually a slide from a week earlier when several groups of Christians who had walked to CoP from Truro, London and Bristol converged to enter Glasgow. They were accompanied by about 400 local church members (including my father).

One of the first groups I was conscious of when I first arrived were bearing these yellow lovehearts. They turned out to be from Tearfund Scotland. They were demanding a fair CoP and love for our global neighbours.

Some were carrying the words of Micah in the very heart of the demonstration.

And then of course there was our butterfly . Unfortunately it was quite a windy day and it didn’t feel safe to walk with it unfurled along the busy streets. We did let it fly though in the park at the end of the route where there was more space.

But for my final picture I want to take us back to the key point of this sermon.

We, as Christians and as citizens of our planet, need to hold our representatives to account. We need to demand that they do come together streaming to the mountain top to meet each other. But we also need to demand that when they get there they will seek justice and peace for all the world’s people not just protect their own wealth and power. We need to keep them accountable to a vision of a world in which swords and spears are no longer needed but are beaten into ploughshares and wind-turbines instead. We need to keep them accountable to a vision of a world in which everyone can live in peace in their own vineyards and beneath their own fig trees and where no-one will live in fear. It’s a vision planted in the mind of an Israelite prophet 2,500 years ago. It’s a vision we, as Christians, need to keep alive today.

To offer our prayers I suggest we watch a video prepared by Tearfund Scotland. Some of it is expressed in the language of prayer and other parts are not but I suggest we watch it all in a spirit of prayer. Afterwards we’ll have a short time to pray for any more personal concerns we ourselves may have at this time.

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