True story: A Presbyterian Pastor who had been assigned to a new church development, was supposed to send in quarterly reports to his Presbytery’s New Church Development Oversight Committee. The report was to include information on financial and congregation growth. There was also a section relating to the pastor’s mental health. How was he sleeping? Was he depressed? Was he feeling overworked? One other section related to liturgical practices in his church. Was the church abiding by the guidelines set forth in the Book of Common Worship?
The pastor completed the report, religiously, shall we say, for a couple of years running. He had a suspicion, though that the Oversight Committee was only interested in financial and church growth. So to test his suspicions, our pastor got creative. One quarter, in the mental health section of the report, he complained that he was spending a lot of time in a dark room staring at walls. He couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. He burst into tears for no reason. Yes, he was feeling depressed.
He sent in his report. Nothing. So the next quarter, he continued in the same vein. Now, though, along with the other symptoms of depression, he said he was entertaining thoughts of suicide. Still nothing from the committee. So, the next quarter, he REALLY got creative. Now, he was happy again! Sooo happy! And so was his congregation. He and the Session had decided to have communion every Sunday. And in place of the bread, he was serving mushrooms! Whoo hooo! The church was growing, dramatically so! People were lining up at the door on Sundays! In the financial and church growth section, he dramatically inflated the numbers, in keeping with his story.
Finally, his report got a full reading! Wouldn’t you have liked to see what transpired at that oversight committee meeting? Wait a minute—attendance and giving rose 400 per cent? Whoa! Wait a minute—mushroom-eating? No, he didn’t get fired. Committee members were duly embarrassed and remorseful.
I won’t be passing around mushrooms this morning, but I do hope to lift our spirits some during the course of this sermon—I know, a difficult thing to do, with everything that is happening in our country and in the world and with such dreary weather Yet, shall I try.
I want to start off by sharing with you a true story I read this week. It was originally told by a well-seasoned Swedish doctor—looking back on his days as a young, junior doctor. I’ve made a few edits to his story so we can respect our time here today. But here are the highlights.
In August, 1975, this then young doctor, was working in a hospital emergency room in a small coastal town in Sweden. The doctor says,
“I was plastering a patient’s arm. A nurse burst into the examining room and exclaimed, ‘A plane has crashed into the water. Survivors are being flown here in helicopters!’”
The senior staff were in the dining room, which meant that the junior doctor and a single nurse were it. Someone ran to get the rest of the medical team. Meanwhile, our young doctor and the one nurse searched frantically for the hospital file folder: “Instructions for disasters.” While they were still searching, they could hear the first helicopters landing.
The first survivor was wheeled in. Our young doctor, assessed the situation. The man on the gurney was unconscious and his body was twitching—sure sign of a seizure! First order of business: remove the patient’s clothes. The life jacket came off easily. The doctor threw that on the floor. But under the jacket was a sort of heavy duty jumpsuit—with a couple of seemingly unzippable zippers. He grabbed some clippers, hoping to cut the suit off. He wasn’t having any success. While he struggled, our young doctor happened to look down. The floor was a deep red around the gurney and his feet. The patient was bleeding out! The young doctor shouted at the patient in Swedish, “Where does it hurt?” The patient rallied, a little. He responded, but it was jibberish. His words sounded Russian, so our young doctor shouted again, this time in Russian, “All is well, comrade. You’re in a Swedish hospital.”
Evidently all was not well, though. The patient’s eyes grew wide with terror. The junior doctor concluded: “Oh no! This is a Russian pilot! His plane has been shot down over Swedish waters. No wonder he is frightened. This is the start of WWIII!”
Things were going very badly indeed. The doctor, recounting this incident concludes his story with this: “Fortunately, at that moment the head nurse, Birgitta, entered the ER. She snatched the clippers and hissed, “Don’t shred it! That’s an air force G suit. It costs 10,000 Swedish kronor.” Then she added, “And can you please step off the life jacket. You’re standing on the color cartridge and it’s making the whole floor red!”
Birgitta calmly removed the air force jump suit. She wrapped the patient in blankets. As she did so, she explained to him, “You’ve been in icy cold water for almost a half hour. That’s why you are shaking and you can’t form words. We just need to warm you up.”
Turns out that patient, a Swedish air force pilot, had crashed landed in the water, during a routine flight. No Russians, and as you know, no WWIII. Whew!
What the young doctor experienced, though, WAS real. And in the retelling he was making the point: Things are often NOT what they seem. The doctor says in retrospect, he has an idea why he got things so wrong. He was born at the end of WWII in Europe. During his young years, he heard lots of stories about the war. He imagined a WWIII. He planned what he would do, where he would go if bombs were dropped. Where he would live if his town was destroyed. He was primed.
Happily, WWIII has not happened. Sensible leaders have worked to reduce the chance of another WWIII. It’s still possible, but improbable.
According to that Swedish doctor, who is also the author of a book I am reading, his name is Hans Rosling, a lot of our fears, are not realistic fears. We too are primed—by history, by lived events (if it happened once, it could happen again!), by the news. I underline here, “the news.” My dad was a journalist. He was obsessed with getting his information right—telling the truth. The news, though, although it may be reliable most of the time, mostly concerns that which happens that is out-of-the- ordinary. No one wants to read about trivia—the number of cars that passed along Route 20 yesterday, for instance. A journalist is going to report on the one car wreck on 20; and if it is gory enough, if enough vehicles were involved, it might even make headlines.
Hans Rosling, again, our Swedish doctor, recently deceased, was a data collector along with being a medical doctor. He was a reputable data collector. He often spoke at the World Health Organization and Unicef, sharing his data. According Hans, the world is different than we believe it to be. We listen to too much bad news, we hang on to old information. That’s what he says. We’re going to test that right now.
So, one of my worries and maybe yours, too, is that young girls in poor countries, are barred from receiving educations—which leads to more poverty, more pregnancies, which down the line leads to more over-population. Yes? You worried about that, too? Ok. So here are some questions for you that concern women’s education, globally, and poverty, and over population.
In the world today, how many girls finish primary school? Is it 20%, 40% or 60%?
In the last 20 years, has the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty almost doubled? Remained more or less the same? Almost halved?
Question 3: There are 2 billion children in the world today, age 0 to 15 years. How many children, age 0-15 will there be in the year 2100? 6 billion? 4 billion? 2 billion?
You ready? How many girls finish primary school? 60%. What? Yep. 60%. In 1967, 65% of girls of primary school age were enrolled, and today it’s 90%! Right now, you may be thinking—well, there are plenty of countries that don’t allow young girls to receive even a primary education! That’s right. Saudi Arabia comes to mind. But more girls are getting a primary education today than ever before. The world is changing for the better, but our mindset has not. We are holding on to old information. And we’re listening to too much news—that reports the worst about the world.
Ok. Where do we stand as regards extreme global poverty? How many people around the world, live hand to mouth, in isolated parts of the world, where they do not have access to decent health care, and have no means of transportation—other than their feet? That number has halved in the last 20 years. As Jesus, said, we will always have the poor with us, but the number of poor people we have with us is diminishing. If you are feeling bad that you got the wrong answer, just know that you are not alone. Only 10% of people asked that question got it right. More information for you: Back in 1800, 85% of people lived in extreme poverty. In 1965, only 50% did, and today, it’s 9%! Isn’t that something?
Last question. This one concerns over-population. There are 2 billion children age 1-15 in the world today. How many will there be in 2100? Correct answer is 2 billion—that’s the UN’s best prediction based on current numbers. That just can’t be, right? Well, actually—With more people climbing out of poverty, and with a more educated female population, with better contraceptions, and with families not having to fear that their children will die young because they have access to better medical care, women are having fewer babies. Back in 1965, there were 5 births per woman globally.. Now it’s 2.5 births per woman. Isn’t that something? I brought a book in today that has more heartening statistics like these—I’m not loaning it out yet—haven’t finished it, but you can order it if you are interested.
I like to think of myself as a Kingdom Preacher. I am all the time preaching about God’s Kingdom come. I believe that the kingdom is here right this very minute—now. Yes, it’s still in its infancy, but God is working and inspiring others to make the kingdom a reality here on earth.
We have a myopic view of God’s work in the world. We see this world, up close and personal. And our thinking is tainted by outdated memories. God’s thinking is more farsighted. And although I don’t presume to know what God is thinking, I am hoping anyway, that God sees the world as it is NOW. What is clear to me, and I hope now, to you too--God IS making the world better and better, day by day, and person by person—it’s just that we have failed to notice. Shame on us.
So, did I do what I said I would do? Are your spirits lifted? We live in a wonderful world, if you ever doubted it. God’s grace is at work, still and always. Amen