Becoming Jesus-following, Neighbor-loving Global Citizens

by susan on April 18, 2016

Purpose wooden sign with a forest backgroundHave you found your place in this world or are you still searching?
What is God’s purpose for your life?

There are many, many books available to help us answer these questions.  Our search for fulfillment and purpose can consume our time and energy and even our money. And, although we may end up finding some answers, those answers often fall short. They are held captive by our very limited perspectives.

I want to invite us to expand our thinking. Yes, we may occupy a specific time and place in history, but we are also part of something much larger that has been unfolding since the beginning of time.

Scientists believe that life on earth as we know it (which, by the way, is just a miniscule part of the cosmos) has been in the making for 3.8 billion years. The first 2 billion years were spent preparing the earth’s surface to support life. The result was a tightly knit community of living things that according to author and professor David Korten evolved “toward ever increasing complexity, beauty, awareness and possibility. …Most every living organism, no matter how small and seemingly unimportant, earn[ed] its living contributing to the health, resilience, and creative potential of the whole.” (Change the Story, Change the Future, p. 74)

Our species came along some 200,000 years ago, and took its place in the web of creation. Our sense of separation from the tightly knit earth community has only been a recent development, starting with the rise of civilization roughly and rapidly picking up steam in the last 400 years. Just think about all the brilliant inventions that have come about in our lifetime alone!

While we continue to evolve and to achieve so much, we are losing sight of the whole.

Life’s purpose and meaning have been reduced to personal success, personal fulfillment & personal salvation.

How do we find our place again?
How can we rejoin the community of life that we are all part of?

I believe that scripture is a response to these age-old questions.  It is the story of our tendency toward self-centeredness and God’s relentless expanding of our horizons. We see this when we look at this prophetic portion of scripture delivered through the writer of the third portion of Isaiah.

Exiled people were being returned home, only to find their home in ruins. Restoration had begun, but it was slower than they had hoped.

They were frustrated.
They were complaining.
They prayed loudly and fasted publicly.
They struggled to find their purpose.
They wondered why God did not listen & speed up the restoration process.

The prophet knows why: Their fasting was a show. Their prayers were empty ritual.  Their religion was a sham because the way they lived still caused the suffering of their neighbors. According to the prophet, according to God, restoration will NOT happen this way. According to The Message translation of Isaiah 58:6-12, God has something different in mind:

This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

The people were asking: how can our lives be better?!
The prophets responded: by creating a better life for all of creation.

This theme is repeated over and over and over again in scripture. More than 500 years later, Jesus would name it as part of the greatest commandment as he told would-be followers:  Love your neighbor as yourself and love one another as I have loved you.
He not only spoke these words, he died & was resurrected living them.

Our place is found in deep connection to earth & in loving, compassionate relationship with our neighbors.

We know this in our heads, but we don’t live like it’s true.

Pile-of-garbageJust look at how recklessly we relate to the world’s resources with little regard for our struggling neighbors.

  • We waste too much food that could be shared with those who are hungry. Nearly 40% of food in America goes to waste. That’s $165 billion of food wasted every year.
  • There is more than enough water available, in total, for everyone’s basic needs yet a third of the world’s population lives in water-stressed countries. The average American consumes 7 times the recommended amount of daily water.
  • Americans throw away enough garbage every day to fill 63,000 garbage trucks, which if lined up end to end for an entire year would stretch half way to the moon. In a lifetime, the average adult would leave a legacy of 90,000 pounds of trash.
  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. Globally, up to 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from eating plastic.
  • We allow pollution to fill the air and water, creating a major problem for poor people, who depend on water from polluted rivers. The resulting climate change threatens coastal areas with flooding, and reduces rainfall in already rain short areas.

We consume without questioning where things come from,
who made them, what human cost was involved,
who will go without so we can have more (& more & more!).

I recently picked up a new label that I want to challenge us to live into and it’s this: “global citizen”. I heard it in a recent TED talk given by Australian activist, Hugh Evans. Hugh’s awareness of the world around him climaxed when in 1998 at age 12, he was awarded a school trip to the Philipines.

That’s where he met Sonny Boy.

Sonny Boy lived in a slum in the outskirts of Manila. His neighborhood was home to a huge, rancid landfill that was referred to as “Smoky Mountain”. It was there that kids like Sonny Boy spent hours rummaging through garbage every single day to find something of value.

Hugh Evans reminisces how,

“That night with Sonny Boy and his family changed my life forever, because when it came time to go to sleep, we simply laid down on this concrete slab the size of half my bedroom with myself, Sonny Boy, and the rest of his family, seven of us in this long line, with the smell of rubbish all around us and cockroaches crawling all around. And I didn’t sleep a wink, but I lay awake thinking to myself, ‘Why should anyone have to live like this when I have so much?”

Only later did he come to understand that the poverty he’d seen in the Philippines was the result of decisions that had anything but the interests of Sonny Boy at heart. Sure, we didn’t create Smoky Mountain, but we may as well have.

We can no longer pretend that our decisions have no consequences. The more we consume, the less there is for others. The more we throw away, the less of the earth’s resources are available for our neighbors.

Every day is a new day to love God and neighbor by what we consume and what we throw away.

What would happen if instead of practicing empty religion, we lived as Jesus-following, neighbor-loving global citizens…
who think before we act?
who ask important questions?
who live as part of the whole?

green livingAs we learn to embrace more sustainable practices,

What amazing kind of restoration would we experience together?

What kind of deep purpose could we come to know?

How would we contribute to the flourishing of all of our neighbors, not just the ones who look & think like us?

Questions for discussion: Have you made the connection between loving your neighbor & caring for the earth, between following Jesus & being a global citizen? What are some ideas you have about how to live more fully into this vision of creation?

A few additional resources used to prepare this message:
11 Stats That Will Change the Way You Think About Consumerism (Relevant Magazine)
Sustainable Traditions (website)
Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices by Julie Clawson
Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass

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