Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Kosmos-World

Sermon preached at St Mary's, Nenagh on 20th May 2012, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the Sunday after the Ascension, year B

I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and for you, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
 I apologise for my bad singing! But I’m sure you all recognise this song – it’s perhaps best known sung by Louis Armstrong. And it’s true isn’t it! We all know what a truly wonderful world God has made for us to live in - a veritable Garden of Eden, if only we would learn to look after it and use it rightly.

St John uses the Greek word ‘kosmos’, meaning ‘world’, no less than 13 times in today’s  reading from his Gospel (John 17:6-19). But this is not the beautiful material world which God made and saw was very good, as the 1st chapter of Genesis puts it. I shall call what John has in mind the kosmos-world, to distinguish it from God’s wonderful world. The kosmos-world is a place of spiritual death, filled with souls cut off from God: a place where greedy people trample on each other to grab more for themselves; a place where violent people kill and torture other people; a place where cynical people despise what is good and true and beautiful. And we all know the reality of that kosmos-world too, don’t we!

For John the very opposite of the kosmos-world is eternal life, as he tells us in the preceding verses, This is eternal life, (to) know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. And the author of 1 John echoes this in today’s 2nd reading (1 John 5:9-13), ‘This is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son’.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus prays to his Father for his disciples.
It is the night of the last supper, just after he has washed the disciples’ feet. It is immediately before he goes out with them to the garden of Gethsemane, across the Kidron valley, where he will be arrested by soldiers and police led to him by Judas Iscariot. Jesus is praying for his disciples, but he is also teaching them, for he prays out loud in their hearing. His words are dense with meaning - perhaps because he knows this is his last opportunity to speak to them before he is arrested, tried and executed.

It would take a very long sermon to tease out all the nuances of his prayer. So I shall pick out just three points about the relationship between Jesus’s disciples and John’s kosmos-world.
  1. Jesus’s disciples are in the kosmos-world, but they do not belong to it. God has given the disciples to Jesus, in the sense that God has made them able to respond to the word of God which Jesus has given them. They have been brought to know and believe the truth that Jesus is sent from God. That is what sets them apart from the kosmos-world, even while they remain in it.
  2. The kosmos-world has already shown it hates Jesus’s disciples because they do not belong to it. Those mired in evil, in cynicism, violence and greed, cannot co-exist with those who live by God’s values. So Jesus calls on his Father to protect his disciples from evil, when he is no longer there to do so in the flesh.
  3. Jesus does not ask God to take his disciples out of the kosmos-world. Just as God sent Jesus into the kosmos-world, so Jesus sends his disciples into it. God sent Jesus to redeem the kosmos-world from within. Jesus sends his disciples to continue his redeeming work there.

The kosmos-world is a metaphor for the evil we encounter all around us, day by day.
It’s hard to see evil for what it is in the abstract. It comes in so many disguises. I think it helps to focus on concrete examples. There are so many to choose from - but let’s focus on the child abuse which has so disfigured Irish society.

We were shocked to learn of the abuse perpetrated by a very few priests and religious in RC parishes and church institutions – a small minority, but still far too many. But lest we are tempted to believe it is not our problem too, we are now hearing the testimony of those abused in protestant institutions, such as Bethany Home in Rathgar and Westbank Orphanage in Greystones. 219 Bethany children are buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin. Many who survived were sent into dysfunctional and abusive situations in places like Westbank.

It is now clear that the evil of child abuse extended far beyond the abusers themselves. It extended to their colleagues and superiors who colluded in it by failing to stop the perpetrators. It extended to organs of the State which failed to exercise their duty of care. And it extended throughout Irish society, to all of us who knew there was something wrong, but could not bring ourselves to say so publicly, thus allowing the evil system to fester for decades.

We must not forget that more children have been abused outside the churches than within them. But it is almost incomprehensible how so many who professed to be Jesus’s disciples could have gone so wrong – but they did. And that must be a lesson to us all not to underestimate the forces of evil. Every one of us needs God’s grace to prevent the forces of evil overcoming us.

So to sum up:
·       The wonderful world God has placed us in is good. We should rejoice in it, and give thanks for it. But as Jesus’s disciples, we must always be on guard against the evil that spoils it.
·         As disciples we live amidst evil, but we do not belong to it, because God has given us to Jesus.
·         As disciples we must be ready to suffer personally when we confront evil and refuse to collude with it. But we can take comfort that Jesus intercedes for us, asking God to protect us from something much worse than suffering – that is, from being drawn into evil ourselves.
·         Our task as disciples is to continue Jesus’s redeeming mission. We have been set apart to confront and defeat evil wherever it is found, not to hide ourselves away like cowards in the face of it.

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