Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Every generation seems to be in search of a New Utopia. Since Plato suggested the existence of Atlantis we have thought in terms of a utopia over the horizon. But the reality in human terms is that have had all kinds of attempts at human utopias and all failed. History is full of all kinds of false utopias. The Early History of the United States before it became independent from European rule is littered with Utopian Attempts and ideas. There were utopias in America, from the first Puritan settlements to the communes of the 1960s, which share the goal of removal from the heart of civilization to the wilderness in order to establish a new social order. Communities with European roots embraced the equalizing demands and freedoms of the New World’s open frontier, even as the new country claimed the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right. Though their inspirations varied—theocracy, millennialism, socialism, theosophism, behaviorism—they all reflected the American dream of a better world, now. (http://brbl-archive.library.yale.edu/exhibitions/utopia/intro.html) Utopianism seems to have lost a lot of its luster in the New World. We have witnessed too many failures. Then there was the suppose utopia of Communist Russia which was anything but. Modern history is littered with utopian failure. So, the question is what did Christians do with the idea of utopia?
In the early days of Christians living in a community we find the drive to come up with a better community. Christianity does not produce a Utopian Atlantis. The society is not some technological society with wonderful laws, mores and customs. Instead it is a simple community based upon one thing. It came about in the afterglow of Easter, and before we arrive at the Pentecost miracle of the Holy Spirit, it is good to be reminded of the new commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you." It is essential that we understand that this one attribute, this one way of life, this one characteristic behavior is the sign by which Jesus said his disciples would be known. Not by their crystalline theology, or their church polity, or their big budgets, or their high technology, or their imposing buildings, or their great influence, "Only by their love." This would be a great Sunday to sing "They'll know we are Christians by our love." Utopia for Christians simply was you know us by our love.
Love is a multi-faceted ("many splendored"?) aspect of human life, and the word has become so commonplace in our language as to render it almost devoid of clear content. We love our "stuff," we "love" certain foods and drink, we love our technology, and we love sports. What kind of love is Jesus talking about here?
Speaking of treasurers, most of us are aware of sad situations in which a treasurer who absconds with the funds has betrayed Christ again. A former presbytery of which I was a member went through this painful experience, when a treasurer embezzled several hundred thousand dollars over a period of a few years. In how many other ways do we betray again the Christ who loves us? Whenever we fail to live as he commands, we betray him again, whenever we compromise with evil, look the other way when we see an injustice, fail to be truthful or kind, we drive another nail into Christ. And yet he loves us. This does not mean we will be spared the consequences of our actions. I was in seminary during the Watergate scandal, and I remember one of my professors, Lew Smedes, running his hand through his great shock of white hair in deep thought, and then declaring, "Richard Nixon should be forgiven...and he should resign."
There are many areas of life that show God’s love at work. There is the famous incident in the 20th century that showed such a depth of love. When Hitler occupied Sweden, and then declared that Jews would have to wear the yellow Star of David, the King of Sweden asked all Swedish citizens to wear the star. "They can't arrest all of us" was the implication. Christians standing together not only with each other but also with their sisters and brothers in faith tradition is a powerful tool for good. The signers of the Barmen Declaration, most of who died in concentration camps, stood together, showing unified love for one another, even unto death. When white Christians took a stand with their black brothers and sisters during the Civil Rights movement, this, too, was a powerful force for good, and marked those who were disciples.
Perhaps the most readily identifiable experience for most Christians, though, is the care we receive from one another in times of crisis and loss. Most congregations have a system or mechanism, whether it be small groups, a Parish Plan, a Deacons telephone tree, a Prayer Chain, or some other means for getting the word out and the congregation mobilized to help in time of need. The care provided by Pastors, church officers, Stephen Ministers or simply friends in the congregation is often life-sustaining, even life-saving. It makes the love of God tangible, often across barriers of class, gender, race or other artificial, but very real, barriers. In the church, we do not choose to whom we will be related: God does that, by calling people into faith and the faith community.
So, love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling. Love is giving. Earlier in John we read that famous verse, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son..." (John 3:16) In the scriptures, love is always more than a feeling. In the life of Jesus, we see giving, unconditional love in action. As his disciples, such love is to be the sign, the mark, of our discipleship. We are not out to form a utopia, but to live motivated by love.
First, Jesus was moved to issue this new commandment by a poignant moment of drama, the departure of his betrayer to do his dirty work (vss. 31-32) He indicates that this betrayal will lead to his glorification. The disciples could not possibly have gotten this point, committed as they were to a kind of triumphalist Messiah, a military leader on a white horse who would lead an army to victory over the Romans and their collaborators. What kind of glory could come out of betrayal? It is clear that the disciples were greatly confused by Jesus' behavior and talk of betrayal. Even when, in John, he hands the morsel of bread to Judas, they think he is being given a task to do, since he was the treasurer. The depth of Christ's love is shown powerfully in the context of betrayal.
The triumphal vision of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-6) shows figuratively where all this is leading. In fact, many utopian models of Christian community have been based on this vision. God will be tangibly and palpably with us and will wipe away every tear. Christianity is a religion of deep feeling that takes human suffering with the utmost empathy and declares that God cares and stands with us in every pain and loss. Not only has God become incarnate in Jesus Christ, God will one day wipe away every tear, that is, do away with suffering altogether. Until that day, God has given us the gift of one another, and our compassion for one another, sharing joys as well as sorrows, is the paramount sign of our discipleship. Pastoral care is not just a nice thing, it is the very center of what it means to be the Church. That's why the Church has been the seed bed of so much compassionate ministry: the founding of hospitals, care at times of grief and loss, care for children and widows and other marginalized, disempowered people. The foundation of the office of Deacon in the church is based on this principle of compassion and justice (Acts 6:1-7)
The whole idea of Atlantis the original utopia came to the for front in the movie Aquaman. This is a good place to start thinking about a perfect community.The search for a utopia is always at the back of everyone’s mind. We naively expect that with the next election we might make things better, that it might be a new utopia on the way. But the early Christians knew better. They had set their goals to a much more manageable level. They decided to live a life of love, not passive love but active love. And that today is what we all want.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Atlantis is a fictional aquatic civilization appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The first version of Atlantis within the DC Universe debuted in Action Comics #18 (November 1939), and was conceived by Gardner F. Fox and Fred Guardineer. Other incarnations of Atlantis appeared in various DC comics in the 1940s and 1950s, including the version in the Superman group of books in which the mermaid Lori Lemaris resides. Aquaman's version of the city, the most prominently featured version in the company's line, first appeared in Adventure Comics #260 (May 1959), and was created by Robert Bernstein and Ramona Fradon. All versions are based on the fictional island of Atlantis first mentioned in Plato's initial dialogue, the Timaeus, written c. 360 BC. The kingdom of Atlantis made its cinematic debut in the 2018 film Aquaman, set in the DC Extended Universe.
Aquaman is the latest entry in the ongoing DCEU series of movies, with Jason Momoa’s titular hero tasked with traversing the various kingdoms of Atlantis in search of a weapon that will allow him to take his place as ruler of the oceans.
But not all of those kingdoms appear on screen for long. If you’re wondering what these places are and how they relate to the comics, pull up a chair (or at least, one of those inflatable swimming pool chairs) because we’ve got you covered.
That’s right. In the movie’s mythology, Atlantis, the mythical city, once existed on land. When it sank into the depths, felled by its own hubris, its people fragmented into seven distinct nations who, whether through magical or scientific means, evolved into separate-looking and acting races, all sons and daughters (and occasionally crustaceans) of the original Atlantis.
Notably, the movie only (definitively) includes six of the seven kingdoms, which can only imply that the last one will appear in a sequel if one gets made. Still, six is better than you’ll find in the comics, where only three of Atlantis’ kingdoms survive: Atlantis, Xebel, and The Trench.
Formed from the wreckage of the original Atlantis, the undersea city remains a technologically-advanced and socio-economically developed society, its obsession with monarchy notwithstanding. In the comics, Aquaman’s version of the city first appeared in Adventure Comics #260 (May 1959).
Part of Atlantis previously appeared in the Justice League movie, where it was the location of a hidden Mother Box. Based on the real mythology of Atlantis as originally depicted by Plato, there’s a Roman bent to this undersea civilization permeating its customs, iconography and, of course, weaponry. It’s no accident that Aquaman is searching for a trident, after all. (https://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/aquaman/278207/aquaman-what-are-the-seven-kingdoms-of-atlantis)
A Utopia (/juːˈtoʊpiə/ yoo-TOH-pee-ə) is an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens. The opposite of a utopia is a dystopia. One could also say that utopia is a perfect "place" that has been designed so there are no problems.
Utopia focuses on equality in economics, government and justice, though by no means exclusively, with the method and structure of proposed implementation varying based on ideology. According to Lyman Tower Sargent "there are socialist, capitalist, monarchical, democratic, anarchist, ecological, feminist, patriarchal, egalitarian, hierarchical, racist, left-wing, right-wing, reformist, Naturism/Nude Christians, free love, nuclear family, extended family, gay, lesbian and many more utopias [...] Utopianism, some argue, is essential for the improvement of the human condition. But if used wrongly, it becomes dangerous. Utopia has an inherent contradictory nature here." Sargent argues that utopia's nature is inherently contradictory, because societies are not homogenous and have desires which conflict and therefore cannot simultaneously be satisfied. If any two desires cannot be simultaneously satisfied, true utopia cannot be attained because in utopia all desires are satisfied.
The term utopia was coined from Greek by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island society in the south Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South America.
The word comes from Greek: οὐ ("not") and τόπος ("place") and means "no-place" and strictly describes any non-existent society 'described in considerable detail'. However, in standard usage, the word's meaning has narrowed and now usually describes a non-existent society that is intended to be viewed as considerably better than contemporary society. Eutopia, derived from Greek εὖ ("good" or "well") and τόπος ("place"), means "good place" and is strictly speaking the correct term to describe a positive utopia. In English, eutopia and utopia are homophonous, which may have given rise to the change in meaning.
The ancient civilization of Atlantis was a utopia. It was lush and full of food and wildlife. And the people of Atlantis were wise and just. They were a knowledgeable society capable of amazing feats of architecture and engineering. Most people believe that the story of Atlantis is just a legend, but some say it was a real place that was destroyed by a flood and earthquakes.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato learned of the lost civilization of Atlantis from a relative named Solon. Plato said that Solon visited Egypt around 600 BC, where he learned of Atlantis from priests at the Temple of Sais. The priests said that Atlantis was destroyed 9,000 years before the time of Solon. This would place Atlantis at approximately 9600 BC. According to author and historian Graham Hancock, this timing is significant.
Throughout history, many explorers have searched for the lost city of Atlantis but have failed to find it. These days, the story of Atlantis is generally thought of as a myth, but that might be changing. New evidence points to a global disaster, which could have caused its destruction.
After the last great ice age ended about 15,000 years ago, the world began warming again. Then after thousands of years of warming, temperatures plummeted and then rose again rapidly 1200 years later. This event is called the Younger Dryas. At the beginning and end of the Younger Dryas, the rapid climate change wreaked havoc on our world. This event ended in approximately 9600 BC – the same time that Plato said Atlantis was destroyed.
Some scientists believe that the climate change of the Younger Dryas was caused by comet fragments. Regardless of the cause, the sudden warming would have caused flooding in some areas.
Many ancient cultures tell stories of natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. In theBible, Noah builds a boat to save people from a catastrophic flood. According to otherlegends, destruction comes from the sky, which could actually be stories of comets. Otherancient stories speak of a time when the world was on fire or a time when the earth shook. Graham Hancock claims that these ancient legends and what we know of the earth’s history ofclimate change both support Plato’s story of the destruction of Atlantis. Indeed, the timing ofthe Younger Dryas and the timing of Plato’s account of Atlantis appear to be spot on. (https://deepenglish.com/2017/07/real-story-atlantis-underwater-utopia/)
The idea of Atlantis — the "lost" island subcontinent often idealized as an advanced, utopian society holding wisdom that could bring world peace — has captivated dreamers, occultists and New Agers for generations. Thousands of books, magazines and websites are devoted to Atlantis, and it remains a popular topic. People have lost fortunes — and in some cases even their lives — looking for Atlantis.
Unlike many legends whose origins have been lost in the mists of time, we know exactly when and where the story of Atlantis first appeared. The story was first told in two of Plato's dialogues, the "Timaeus" and the "Critias," written about 360 B.C.
Though today Atlantis is often conceived of as a peaceful utopia, the Atlantis that Plato described in his fable was very different. In his book "Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology," professor of archaeology Ken Feder notes that in Plato's story, "Atlantis is not a place to be honored or emulated at all. Atlantis is not the perfect society ... Quite the contrary, Atlantis is the embodiment of a materially wealthy, technologically advanced, and militarily powerful nation that has become corrupted by its wealth, sophistication, and might." As propaganda in Plato's morality tale, the Atlantis legend is more about the city's heroic rival Athens than a sunken civilization; if Atlantis really existed today and was found intact and inhabited, its residents would probably try to kill and enslave us all.
It's clear that Plato made up Atlantis as a plot device for his stories, because there no other records of it anywhere else in the world. There are many extant Greek texts; surely someone else would have also mentioned, at least in passing, such a remarkable place. There is simply no evidence from any source that the legends about Atlantis existed before Plato wrote about it. (https://www.livescience.com/23217-lost-city-of-atlantis.html)
In his book "Meet Me In Atlantis: Across Three Continents in Search of the Legendary Lost City" Mark Adams explains how an otherwise unremarkable Greek legend became so widely known. It was due to a Minnesota man named Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901). Donnelly was a Congressmen and amateur historian who claimed, in his 1882 book "The Antediluvian World," that all great advances in civilization and technology could be traced back to the long-lost island mentioned by Plato. But Donnelly went beyond merely popularizing Plato's story; he added some of his own "facts" and ideas that have become part of the Atlantis myth. Donnelly promoted what is now called "diffusionism," the idea that all great cultures can be traced back to a single source.
Adams describes Donnelly "as the first great Atlantis fundamentalist, in that he believed that Plato's story was factually accurate outside of the supernatural elements like Poseidon." Donnelly sent a copy of his book to Charles Darwin, who found it interesting but unpersuasive — reading it, he said, "in a very skeptical spirit." Adams, after poring over much of Donnelly's materials, comes to a similar conclusion: "Donnelly was ... a bag of winds. He knew the results he wanted and rummaged through his sources searching for only those facts that fit his needs, without pausing to note any reasonable doubts."
Later, less skeptical writers elaborated on Donnelly's theories, adding their own opinions and speculations. These included mystic Madame Blavatsky (in her 1888 book, "The Secret Doctrine") and famous psychic Edgar Cayce in the 1920s. Cayce, who put a fundamentalist Christian spin on the Atlantis story, gave psychic readings for thousands of people — many of whom, he claimed, had past lives in Atlantis. Unfortunately, none of the information was verifiable, and Cayce wrongly predicted that the continent would be discovered in 1969.
The 'lost' continent
Despite its clear origin in fiction, many people over the centuries have claimed that there must be some truth behind the myths, speculating about where Atlantis would be found. Countless Atlantis "experts" have located the lost continent all around the world based on the same set of facts. Candidates — each accompanied by its own peculiar sets of evidence and arguments — include the Atlantic Ocean, Antarctica, Bolivia, Turkey, Germany, Malta and the Caribbean.
Plato, however, is crystal clear about where Atlantis is: "For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, 'the pillars of Heracles,' (i.e., Hercules) there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together." In other word it lies in the Atlantic Ocean beyond "The pillars of Hercules" (i.e., the Straits of Gibraltar, at the mouth of the Mediterranean). Yet it has never been found in the Atlantic, or anywhere else. (https://www.livescience.com/23217-lost-city-of-atlantis.html)
The only way to make a mystery out of Atlantis (and to assume that it was once a real place) is to ignore its obvious origins as a moral fable and to change the details of Plato's story, claiming that he took license with the truth, either out of error or intent to deceive. With the addition, omission, or misinterpretation of various details in Plato's work, nearly any proposed location can be made to "fit" his description.
Yet as writer L. Sprague de Camp noted in his book "Lost Continents," "You cannot change all the details of Plato's story and still claim to have Plato's story. That is like saying the legendary King Arthur is 'really' Cleopatra; all you have to do is to change Cleopatra's sex, nationality, period, temperament, moral character, and other details, and the resemblance becomes obvious."
The most obvious sign that Atlantis is a myth is that no trace of it has ever been found despite advances in oceanography and ocean floor mapping in past decades. For nearly two millennia readers could be forgiven for suspecting that the vast depths might somehow hide a sunken city or continent. Though there remains much mystery at the bottom of the world's oceans, it is inconceivable that the world's oceanographers, submariners, and deep-sea probes have some how missed a landmass "larger than Libya and Asia together."
Furthermore, plate tectonics demonstrate that Atlantis is impossible; as the continents have drifted, the seafloor has spread over time, not contracted. There would simply be no place for Atlantis to sink into. As Ken Feder notes, "The geology is clear; there could have been no large land surface that then sank in the area where Plato places Atlantis. Together, modern archaeology and geology provide an unambiguous verdict: There was no Atlantic continent; there was no great civilization called Atlantis."
Ignatius Donnelly was certain of his theory, predicting that hard evidence of the sunken city would soon be found, and that museums around the world would one day be filled with artifacts from Atlantis. Yet over 130 years have passed without a trace of evidence. The Atlantis legend has been kept alive, fueled by the public's imagination and fascination with the idea of a hidden, long-lost utopia. Yet the "lost city of Atlantis" was never lost; it is where it always was in Plato's books. (https://www.livescience.com/23217-lost-city-of-atlantis.html)
Chronologically, the first recorded Utopian proposal is Plato's Republic. Part conversation, part fictional depiction and part policy proposal, Republic would categorize citizens into a rigid class structure of "golden," "silver," "bronze" and "iron" socioeconomic classes. The golden citizens are trained in a rigorous 50-year-long educational program to be benign oligarchs, the "philosopher-kings." Plato stressed this structure many times in statements, and in his published works, such as the Republic. The wisdom of these rulers will supposedly eliminate poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources, though the details on how to do this are unclear. The educational program for the rulers is the central notion of the proposal. It has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbors. These mercenaries were deliberately sent into dangerous situations in the hope that the more warlike populations of all surrounding countries will be weeded out, leaving peaceful peoples.
During the 16th century, Thomas More's book Utopia proposed an ideal society of the same name. Readers, including Utopian socialists, have chosen to accept this imaginary society as the realistic blueprint for a working nation, while others have postulated that Thomas More intended nothing of the sort. It is believed that More's Utopia functions only on the level of a satire, a work intended to reveal more about the England of his time than about an idealistic society. This interpretation is bolstered by the title of the book and nation and its apparent confusion between the Greek for "no place" and "good place": "utopia" is a compound of the syllable ou-, meaning "no" and topos, meaning place. But the homophonic prefix eu-, meaning "good," also resonates in the word, with the implication that the perfectly "good place" is really "no place."
Particularly in the early 19th century, several utopian ideas arose, often in response to the belief that social disruption was created and caused by the development of commercialism and capitalism. These ideas are often grouped in a greater "utopian socialist" movement, due to their shared characteristics. A once common characteristic is an egalitarian distribution of goods, frequently with the total abolition of money. Citizens only do work which they enjoy and which is for the common good, leaving them with ample time for the cultivation of the arts and sciences. One classic example of such a utopia was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. Another socialist utopia is William Morris's News from Nowhere, written partially in response to the top-down (bureaucratic) nature of Bellamy's utopia, which Morris criticized. However, as the socialist movement developed, it moved away from utopianism; Marx in particular became a harsh critic of earlier socialism he described as utopian. (For more information, see the History of Socialism article.) In a materialist utopian society, the economy is perfect; there is no inflation and only perfect social and financial equality exists.
In 1905, H.G. Wells published A Modern Utopia, which was widely read and admired and provoked much discussion. Also consider Eric Frank Russell's book The Great Explosion (1963) whose last section details an economic and social utopia. This forms the first mention of the idea of Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS).
During the "Khrushchev Thaw" period, the Soviet writer Ivan Efremov produced the science-fiction utopia Andromeda (1957) in which a major cultural thaw took place: humanity communicates with a galaxy-wide Great Circle and develops its technology and culture within a social framework characterized by vigorous competition between alternative philosophies.
The English political philosopher James Harrington, author of the utopian work The Commonwealth of Oceana, published in 1656, inspired English country party republicanism and was influential in the design of three American colonies. His theories ultimately contributed to the idealistic principles of the American Founders. The colonies of Carolina (founded in 1670), Pennsylvania (founded in 1681), and Georgia (founded in 1733) were the only three English colonies in America that were planned as utopian societies with an integrated physical, economic and social design. At the heart of the plan for Georgia was a concept of “agrarian equality” in which land was allocated equally and additional land acquisition through purchase or inheritance was prohibited; the plan was an early step toward the yeoman republic later envisioned by Thomas Jefferson.
The communes of the 1960s in the United States were often an attempt to greatly improve the way humans live together in communities. The back-to-the-land movements and hippies inspired many to try to live in peace and harmony on farms, remote areas and to set up new types of governance. Communes like Kaliflower, which existed between 1967 and 1973, attempted to live outside of society's norms and create their own ideal communist based society.
Intentional communities were organized and built all over the world with the hope of making a more perfect way of living together. While many of these new small communities failed, some are growing, such as the Twelve Tribes Communities that started in the United States. Since its start, it has now grown into many groups around the world.
In the United States and Europe, during the Second Great Awakening (ca. 1790–1840) and thereafter, many radical religious groups formed utopian societies in which faith could govern all aspects of members' lives. These utopian societies included the Shakers, who originated in England in the 18th century and arrived in America in 1774. A number of religious utopian societies from Europe came to the United States from the 18th century throughout the 19th century, including the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness (led by Johannes Kelpius (1667–1708)), the Ephrata Cloister (established in 1732) and the Harmony Society, among others. The Harmony Society was a Christian theosophy and pietist group founded in Iptingen, Germany, in 1785. Due to religious persecution by the Lutheran Church and the government in Württemberg, the society moved to the United States on October 7, 1803, settled in Pennsylvania. On February 15, 1805, about 400 followers formally organized the Harmony Society, placing all their goods in common. The group lasted until 1905, making it one of the longest-running financially successful communes in American history. The Oneida Community, founded by John Humphrey Noyes in Oneida, New York, was a utopian religious commune that lasted from 1848 to 1881. Although this utopian experiment has become better known today for its manufacture of Oneida silverware, it was one of the longest-running communes in American history. The Amana Colonies were communal settlements in Iowa, started by radical German pietists, which lasted from 1855 to 1932. The Amana Corporation, manufacturer of refrigerators and household appliances, was originally started by the group. Other examples are Fountain Grove (founded in 1875), Riker's Holy City and other Californian utopian colonies between 1855 and 1955 (Hine), as well as Sointula in British Columbia, Canada. The Amish and Hutterites can also be considered an attempt towards religious utopia. A wide variety of intentional communities with some type of faith-based ideas have also started across the world.
A new heaven and new earth [Rev 21:1], Mortier's Bible, Phillip Medhurst Collection
The Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible depicts an eschatological time with the defeat of Satan and of evil. The main difference compared to the Old Testament promises is that such a defeat also has an ontological value (Rev 21:1;4: "Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea...'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away") and no longer just gnosiological (a term of 18th-century aesthetics, is "the philosophy of knowledge and cognition) Is 65:17: "See, I will create/new heavens and a new earth./The former things will not be remembered,/nor will they come to mind"). Narrow interpretation of the text depicts Heaven on Earth or a Heaven brought to Earth without sin. Daily and mundane details of this new Earth, where God and Jesus rule, remain unclear, although it is implied to be similar to the biblical Garden of Eden. Some theological philosophers believe that heaven will not be a physical realm but instead an incorporeal place for souls.
Though Francis Bacon's New Atlantis is imbued with a scientific spirit, scientific and technological utopias tend to be based in the future, when it is believed that advanced science and technology will allow utopian living standards; for example, the absence of death and suffering; changes in human nature and the human condition. Technology has affected the way humans have lived to such an extent that normal functions, like sleep, eating or even reproduction, have been replaced by artificial means. Other examples include a society where humans have struck a balance with technology and it is merely used to enhance the human living condition (e.g. Star Trek). In place of the static perfection of a utopia, libertarian transhumanists envision an "extropia", an open, evolving society allowing individuals and voluntary groupings to form the institutions and social forms they prefer.
Mariah Utsawa presented a theoretical basis for technological utopianism and set out to develop a variety of technologies ranging from maps to designs for cars and houses which might lead to the development of such a utopia.
One notable example of a technological and libertarian socialist utopia is Scottish author Iain Banks' Culture.
Opposing this optimism is the prediction that advanced science and technology will, through deliberate misuse or accident, cause environmental damage or even humanity's extinction. Critics, such as Jacques Ellul and Timothy Mitchell advocate precautions against the premature embrace of new technologies. Both raise questions about changing responsibility and freedom brought by division of labour. Authors such as John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen consider that modern technology is progressively depriving humans of their autonomy and advocate the collapse of the industrial civilization, in favor of small-scale organization, as a necessary path to avoid the threat of technology on human freedom and sustainability.
There are many examples of techno-dystopias portrayed in mainstream culture, such as the classics Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, often published as "1984", which have explored some of these topics.
In many cultures, societies, and religions, there is some myth or memory of a distant past when humankind lived in a primitive and simple state but at the same time one of perfect happiness and fulfillment. In those days, the various myths tell us, there was an instinctive harmony between humanity and nature. People's needs were few and their desires limited. Both were easily satisfied by the abundance provided by nature. Accordingly, there were no motives whatsoever for war or oppression. Nor was there any need for hard and painful work. Humans were simple and pious and felt themselves close to their God or gods. According to one anthropological theory, hunter-gatherers were the original affluent society.
These mythical or religious archetypes are inscribed in many cultures and resurge with special vitality when people are in difficult and critical times. However, in utopias, the projection of the myth does not take place towards the remote past but either towards the future or towards distant and fictional places, imagining that at some time in the future, at some point in space, or beyond death, there must exist the possibility of living happily.
These myths of the earliest stage of humankind have been referred to by various cultures, societies and religions:
Growing up is a process of leaving behind the familiar and reassuring, and assuming new responsibility. When my father died, I could no longer call and get his opinion, rely on him for advice, or see the world vicariously through his eyes. I had to learn to make my own decisions, use my own accumulated wisdom, and go to God for advice more quickly than I did before. As time goes on, I gain more confidence, confidence I might not have had if my father had not left. Just so, Jesus went ahead of his disciples, and there were certain benefits and advantages, certain elements of growth, they could never have obtained with him physically around.
We need mentors. We need an example to look up to, a teacher from whom to learn, a hero to emulate. That was what was new about the new commandment. Judaism already had as its twin pillars love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus agreed with the leading rabbis of his day on that. What was new in the new commandment were the words "as I have loved you." We are called to love one another as Jesus loves us.
Every game the sports writers choose MVP's: Most Valuable Players. This glory is visited upon those who contribute the most to the success of their team. The glory they receive is reflected upon their coaches, who taught and guided them toward the achievement of the win. Jesus, on the other hand, was glorified in betrayal (John 13:31-32) He gained glory as the evil of humanity was focused on him, because his purpose was to overcome it with loving sacrifice, to give his life a ransom for many. God was glorified in him. God is glorified when love is shown, especially to the uttermost, unto death. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13)
Barriers are broken down in many ways. The terrible earthquake in Bam, Iran, during Christmas week 2003 resulted in the almost unfathomable loss of nearly 30,000 people. One elderly woman lost fifty-three members of her family. In the face of such tragedy and massive need, Iran relaxed its restrictions regarding who could provide aid, and invited every country except Israel (and secretly some Israelis helped anyway). Love was needed, in mass quantities. Love broke down barriers between Jewish and Gentile Christians - in the early Church (Acts 11:1-18) God showed Peter in a dream that God's love was broader and deeper than he had previously thought. And love motivated Peter to declare his dream to the other leaders in Jerusalem so persuasively, that their objections were silenced, and they learned to accept this new, more inclusive Church.
Uniforms tell a person's loyalties, who they represent. The uniform is the mark, of loyalty to the U.S. Army, the National Park Service, Domino's Pizza or Delta Airlines. Love is our uniform. As we show love in the name of God, people can recognize us as Disciples of Christ.
When talking to non-believers, I am struck by how often they refuse to trust in Christ because someone who called himself a Christian was mean, unloving, arrogant, petty or manipulative toward them. Even those who do not believe know what Jesus asks of his disciples, and are disappointed and disillusioned when we fail to live up to his call. No one is perfect, only Christ, but we need to remember the effects our love or lack thereof has on the faith of others.
Love is not always a matter of fixing things. There are often realities of our lives that cannot be changed and must simply be endured. In times of suffering and loss, it is the presence of others with us in our suffering that gives us strength to endure what cannot be changed or fixed. I had a dear friend who was dying of pancreatic cancer. I went once a week and read to him, or listened to his questions (for which, frequently, I had no answers) I often felt inadequate, and prayed God would heal him, but that did not happen. I was privileged simply to be a sign of God's presence. When he died, his widow said to me "You'll never know how much your visits meant to Don. He looked forward to your coming every week."
Can loving one another include self-love, too? Many pastors think that ignoring their own health and being almost obsessively involved with the church is what Christ asks of them. But G. Lloyd Rediger, in his book Fit to Be a Pastor (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000) points out that not taking care of our bodies, our minds and our spirits, can so cripple us as to make our ministry ineffective or worse, actually damaging to others. Part of our love for one another is setting an example of fitness by taking care of our bodies, minds and spirits. Physical, mental and spiritual fitness is essential for pastors or teachers in the Church who want the best for their parishioners. The love of Christ compels us!
God's love extends to our non-human neighbors as well. Animal welfare and well-being should be a concern for the Church. The love we bear toward one another can direct our love for the non-human members of our families, and churches that have special observances, such as services of blessing for animals, teach this loving concern to their parishioners. Both Miami Animal Police and Animal Precinct, on the Animal Planet cable television channel, demonstrate the depth of cruelty and neglect visited on these furry fellow species. Does Jesus limited command the love to humans? Or should our expression of God's love also extend to a wider neighborhood?
"Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love," is both the refrain of a popular folk hymn and a recasting of Jesus' words to his disciples in the Upper Room. We see this in parable form in two films, one positive, and the other negative: In The Tigger Movie, a delightful animated version of A.A. Milne's characters, Tigger, the ever-bouncing optimist longs so much to have a family of his own kind that he sets out to search for them. When his search is fruitless, his friend Roo sends him a fake letter, allegedly from his "real" family. The excited Tigger sets out again, even though a snowstorm is raging. The other "Winnie the Pooh" characters - Rabbit, Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, as well as Roo-become so worried about their friend that they set forth to find their friend in case he is in trouble. Earlier they had rejected their friend because his bouncing was interfering with their preparations for winter. After a dangerous and adventurous time they do find their friend, and he realizes that his friend's love for him has made them into his family. Love is what drove each of his friends to risk the dangers of the winter storm in order to find him, he realizes.
The negative parable of Christians loving one another, or rather failing to show such love, is a scene in Babette's Feast. The members of a small Christian congregation continue to meet for a weekly meal in the parsonage of the pastor who had founded their church, even though he has been dead for several years. His two daughters, who had served him so well, have stayed on and ministered to the physical needs of the little flock. However, their spiritual ministrations are not as effective. The parishioners hold grudges against one another, and at one meal two accuse each other of dealing falsely with each other in a business deal, while a man and woman express their guilt that their marriage had grown out of an adulterous affair. For over a decade the two sisters and the group have been served by a French woman named Babette, who had sought refuge in the home of the sisters when she had to flee France for her life because of a political upheaval that had taken the life of her husband. Babette's culinary skills had greatly enriched the lives of the poor parishioners, so that with they often give thanks to God for sending them Babette as well as their food. During this particular tea-time gathering after their communal prayers the noise of the quarreling Christians penetrates the heavy door to the kitchen where Babette has been waiting, serving tray in hand, to serve the people when their prayers and hymns are ended. She enters the room and with but a word or two admonishes them. She commands such respect that they realize immediately their shortcomings. However, it will not be until later, after they consume a fabulous meal of love and grace, that they will be transformed into the kind of fellowship envisioned by Jesus at that first table of grace.
Much Internet chatter about Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films has focused on the relationships between Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin, wondering if there isn't a sexual component to them. Long-time readers of the books, however, are baffled by the conversation. Tolkien writes movingly of friendships that are so deep that friends are willing to risk their lives for one another. Have we lost that image of friendship in our current society?
I recently conducted a wedding for two dear friends Ann and Greg. The presence of a minister provided them not only the guiding and sustaining witness of the Church but also the blessing of Christ upon their marriage. Our culture is very confused about love, for we try hard to love one another but we interpret this instruction from Christ to mean 'feel passion about one another.' However, our lection today providentially affords us opportunity to place side-by-side the twisted language of human councils and our personal passions with the clear voice of God. Our culture more than ever needs a clear witness about genuine love which is stronger than our sin, even and perhaps especially from those of us who have endured the failure of a marriage. For we know from hard experience just how costly it is to follow Christ's command.
Love is not supposed to be a spectator activity. In The Battle for Christmas, however, Stephen Nissenbaum tells about how during the 1890s wealthy people in New York City would pay to sit in arenas and watch poor people being served a Christmas dinner. On Christmas Day of 1890 a midday meal was served to 1,800 poor boys of the city at a theater at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Forty-second Street. A newspaper later reported: "Every floor was crowded with lookers-on, principally members of the Children's Aid Society and other charitable people." A similar situation arose in 1898 when the Salvation Army began offering public Christmas dinners for the poor of New York City in Madison Square Garden. As the hungry and homeless were fed at tables on the arena floor, affluent New Yorkers paid to be admitted to the Garden's boxes and galleries, where they observed the less-fortunate gorging themselves at the tables.
Thinking about doing a loving thing and actually doing it are two different things. The Red Cross reports that 80% of all people think that donating blood is a good idea. Yet only 10% of all Americans donate on a regular basis.
In Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects on the concept of charity. He contends that charity is a bond that is supposed to be constantly present between people. Our charitable acts, therefore, are deeds that make those bonds manifest. Our charitable, loving acts do not establish new bonds among us; rather they bear witness to the relationship with each other that God has established for us.
There are more people in this world who need the love of Jesus than we may be aware of. According to the BBC (9/18/03), British aid agencies estimate that 80 million children and mothers will needlessly die in the developing world by 2015 unless urgent action is taken. Although the international community has pledged to reduce child and mother mortality rates over the next decade, British relief organizations believe the situation in many countries is getting worse, not better. In particular, the groups believe that key to reducing the death rates is ensuring access to basic healthcare, clean water, and sanitation. In 2000, the United Nations member countries approved the Millennium Development Goals, which aimed to cut child mortality by two-thirds and maternal death rates by three-quarters by 2015. The largest causes of death among mothers and children in the third world are diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria. All of those problems can be prevented and treated.
In The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, Francis Fukuyama comments on how rare altruistic love is outside the bonds of kinship. Even when it comes to friendships, he observes that after a while, if our acts of kindness are not reciprocated-or if our good deeds are repaid with insults or harm-we eventually reach a point where we choose to end the friendship. Fukuyama points out that wealthy benefactors often make large gifts toward the end of their lives as a way of "giving back to the community" for favors they had received in their earlier days. The author also examines the climactic scene in the Christmas holiday classic, It's a Wonderful Life. In that scene, the residents of Bedford Falls scramble to repay George Bailey for a lifetime of favors that he had done for them when his savings and loan is about to go bankrupt. Fukuyama concludes that the power of that scene is not that George Bailey was altruistic. Rather he believes the scene touches us because it is a reassurance that in a true community, altruism is ultimately rewarded. In the case of George Bailey, his altruism was rewarded with cold, hard cash.
Are we willing commit ourselves to a kind of love that will make a difference in people's lives? In Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society, Marva Dawn cites a study done by the United Nations Development Program that determined that ending world hunger could be accomplished relatively inexpensively. According to that report, basic health and nutrition needs for the world's poorest people could be met for about $13 billion more a year beyond what affluent countries currently give in foreign aid. As a way of setting that amount in context, people in the United States and Europe spend more than that on pet food each year.
One of the most difficult things about loving other people is the fact that we can so quickly find aspects about them that are unlovable. In Everybody's Normal Till You Get To Know Them, John Ortberg suggests that the key to loving other people is a willingness to accept others as they are. If we are only willing to love people who have no flaws, we're never going to get around to loving anyone. Ortberg suggests that if people were for sale in a store, they would be located in the department where items are labeled "as is." Ortberg points out that "as is" instructs us, "We're not going to tell you where the flaw is. You'll have to look for it. But we know it's there. So when you find it-and you will find it-don't come whining and sniveling to us."
In Everybody's Normal Till You Get To Know Them, John Ortberg tells about a small museum he visited on Nantucket Island. The museum recorded the history of a volunteer society that was formed along the Northeast coast centuries ago, the Humane Society. The Humane Society was established because of the storms that often arose in the Atlantic, causing boats to wreck on the rocky New England shore. The group resolved to dedicate themselves to saving sailors' lives. Toward that end, the Humane Society constructed little huts all along the shore, which were constantly staffed by volunteers who kept an eye on the sea for anyone who might be in need. Then, whenever a ship went down, the members of the Humane Society would spring into action and do whatever was needed to save every life they could. Many times the group members would risk everything-including their very lives-in order to save the lives of people they had never met before. Eventually the United States Coast Guard took over the task of rescuing people at sea. For a while the Humane Society worked in conjunction with the Coast Guard. But after a while, organization members took the attitude, "Let the professionals do it." As a result, the volunteers stopped manning the look-out huts. When ships sank, the group members no longer went out on the rescue missions. Yet, even though the real purpose of their group had been abandoned, they refused to disband the organization. That life-saving society continues to exist even today. They never get too close to the water anymore. But they do have good dinners together and enjoy each other's company.
"I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least" (Dorothy Day)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens;
People: Praise God in the heights!
Leader: Praise God, sun and moon;
People: Praise God, all you shining stars!
Leader: Praise the Lord from the earth,
People: Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Leader: Young men and women alike, old and young together!
People: Let them praise the name of the Lord, whose glory is above earth and heaven.
O God, who breaks down barriers and brings reconciliation, forgive us when we preserve the walls and barricades of pride and privilege. Give us compassion for those whose paths are different, whose race or language or culture is different from our own. Give us the grace to prize the differences, and to seek the unique gifts you give to others. Forgive the many ways we separate ourselves, and give us a welcoming Spirit, that we may offer the good news in Christ to all we meet.
Generous God, who provides for our every need, and gives us more than we need, so that we can share generously with others, bless these gifts which we return to your service. Receive them from our hands, and consecrate them to your purposes, so that they may go forth from this place and embody your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God of love, open our hearts to others. Guide us by your Spirit; lead us in your gracious ways. As others see us, may they see Christ in us. May they meet you in our kindness; find you through our care; accept you because of our smile of acceptance, and warm embrace of reassurance. May this be the mark of our discipleship, that we love one another.
You have declared your intention to drive out sadness, and loss, and fear, and death through your Son our Savior. Empower us to live as if that has already happened: to dry each other's tears by our caring, to bring light into the night of another's despair, to quiet the raging seas of anger and discontent through our acts of justice and peace. With faith in your reconciling mercy, may we be merciful. Through hope in your conquest of evil, may we work your good. Through love as Christ has loved us, may we demonstrate servanthood, through Him who gave his life that we might have life. Amen.