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By Donald Phillipps in All Sorts

how do we apply the stories of Jesus, which emphasized the everyday world and not the miraculous

Arthur Mee’s Golden Pathway, an eight-volume anthology for children, had a section of poetry which began, as I recall from an age ago, with these lines from Robert Louis Stevenson –
The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings
How I wish that were true!
You may remember Carl Sagan, the popular scientist who captivated television audiences of the 1970s and ’80s. He once said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The trouble with this bit of common-sense is that it doesn’t satisfy the skeptics who, if they have nothing else to offer insist “There’s no proof, there’s no proof!”’
Nor does it stop the host of enthusiasts for extra-terrestrial interference in human history from putting forward unbelievable claims to explain events and trends within human society. I have been reading about a gathering in Pasadena, California, last week, under the title of AlienCon, offering its thousands of attendees the chance to consider whether there is government involvement in secret dealings with aliens, whether we are alone in the universe - or, quite simply, what are our origins.
Increasingly our world is struggling to cope with the mass of information poured out daily by the media. Some with inquiring minds have the ability, as it were, to sort out the wheat from the chaff They can honestly put aside matters beyond their skill to explain. But there are others, and there have always been others, since the beginning of human culture, who have looked for extraordinary answers.
A thousand years ago it was God, or a whole pantheon of gods, who were believed to be responsible for the inexplicable. When we talk about the birth of Jesus, we still turn to God and angels and wise men - and there are people who say, “This is ridiculous?”’ Isn’t it! But this recent conference did explore spirituality and the mystery of life in an increasingly secular, data-driven culture – and it did offer some seekers an origin story. The Good News at the heart of Jesus’ message has very little to do with the unusual, and nothing to do with the paranormal. There’s a lovely story about the time Jesus was speaking to the crowd who, he said, always wanted signs and wonders. He had no time for those who wanted miracles – he much preferred the sensible farmer who looked at the sky and from the shape of the clouds or the direction of the wind could, for example, fairly accurately predict the weather for the next day or so. Nothing extraordinary about that – just long experience turned into common-sense precaution.
Today’s equivalent of that old farmer is the scientist who reads the evidence of years of collected data, backed up by increasing examples from around the world of ‘extreme weather events’ as they are called. All that evidence supports the fact of global warming, and it is alarming, even totally irresponsible, for a world leader such as the President of the United States to assert otherwise.
Throughout our Parish Siosifa has consistently reminded us of the threat that global warming presents to his Tongan people, and our near neighbours. To do nothing by way of preparation for the effects of rising sea levels is not an option. Is it enough if we only adjust building standards for the South Dunedin area – surely not? It is crass stupidity to spend time wondering whether aliens were responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs or the building of the pyramids. There’s work to be done now to prepare for climate change.
Back to Jesus of Nazraeth, and to an emphasis that (I believe) we are too inclined to overlook. The heart of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus – it is not the birth in Bethlehem. We have been so dazzled by the merchandise of Christmas that we overlook the miracle of Easter, which took place in the darkness of a tomb.
In between those two events lies the life of a peasant teacher, walking the roads and sharing a simple message about an everyday God of love. He told this in story-form and ordinary people knew what he was talking about. We belong in that same everyday world. It needs minding, now.
Donald Phillipps