During Advent 2016 Stranton All Saints Hartlepool did a sermon series on a variety of themes. Mine was on Globalisation. To complicate things, I had to preach the same sermon in three slightly different contexts. The first was At Burbank Community Church on November 27th. I had been there two week previously leading the remembrance day service and as such I tied in some more content on the theme of the World Wars. The others were at Stranton church on 4th Decemeber, one at an 8:30 traditional communion service with a shorter amount of time for the sermon, and then the 10:30 with some more time. As such, this is the script that I used by the last sermon, however I did not use it verbatim at all three. However, I hope that this slightly expanded text is still of interest and I believe it works as a cohesive whole.
The Bible Passages were: Habakkuk 1:2-7;2:9-14 and John 12:44-50.
I was standing on the wall by the ocean last week. I’d had some time to kill between the morning services and Messy Church and so I thought I would brave the wind and the rain and head down and see the sea.
The wind heaved in mighty gusts as the waves crashed upon the shore and I was struck by the sheer size of it all. When was the last time you went to the sea? Perhaps you’re used to it, but I grew up miles away from the ocean in the depths of rural Devon and then rural Norfolk before sometime in London. Trees and fields and hills are one thing. Busses and endless pavements and buildings are another – but the ocean, the ocean is a completely different thing.
As I stood there I was struck by the sheer size of it. It spread from the headland to the left across to the right over and beyond the horizon. There, in the distance, was a massive ship sitting out at water, silhouetted against the skyline, and it got me thinking about this sermon on globalisation. Standing there, buffeted by the wind, I had a renewed appreciation for just how big this world is. The view of the sea, and turning around, the view of Hartlepool, seemed enormous and yet in context this is just one small corner of the North East, which is part of England, part of the United Kingdom, part of Europe, part of the Northern Hemisphere, part of the whole world.
I think that the world has always been a place of the unknown. Walk along the coast and there’s always another hill to walk over, another cove to discover. As you know, I’ve just started at Cranmer Hall in Durham and the last couple of months I’ve been walking and cycling here there and everywhere around Durham, discovering different ways of getting from one place to another and slowing mapping the place out in my mind, getting to know the area. We have a tendency to want to explore the world around us. Think about the Lion King movie, when Mufassa tells Simba that everything the light touches is their Kingdom, and Simba wants to know what’s beyond the light, “What’s over there”?
The world has always been this way. We look at the story of Abraham and his family as they set off to look for the Promised Land that God has told him about. We look at ancient history and the spread of the Egyptians, or later the rise of the Ancient Greeks before being overtaken by the Roman Empire. Even before then, in our reading from Habbakuk today we hear of the Babylonian Empire which seemed unstoppable in military power as they filled the lands. There was Alexander the Great whose empire was over 2 million square miles big, some three hundred years before Jesus. The Roman Empire was 1.9 million square miles. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire a thousand years later was 9.3 million square miles! That’s two and a half times the size of the United States of America. Then we come to the largest empire known to history, just over four hundred years of exploration, war and politics grew the British Empire to 13.7 million square miles. To put such a large number into perspective, the UK is 244 thousand square miles, England is 50 thousand square miles; the North east is 3.3 thousand square miles big and Hartlepool takes up 36 square miles. That means that the British Empire was the same size as 38 lots of the United Kingdom, or if 258333 Hartlepools. Or, to look at it another way, the British Empire held Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Western Samoa, India, Burma, Papa New Guinea, Malaya, Sarawuk, Brunei, Oman, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, North and South Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Mauritius, the Maldives, South Afrdica, Swaziland, Nigeria, Gold Coast and Sierra Leone, and parts of what’s now the United States and China.
That’s a lotta places!
So why am I rambling on about these historical empires?
Because, to an extent, life has always been this way; civilizations have always grown and tried expand, to explore and control as much of the known world as possible.
In the process of expanding these empires had to find ways to stay in communication – to stay connected. In Ancient Greece they relied on messengers to run between battalions and cities. The Romans built the long straight roads across Europe and the UK to make trade easier. When we read Acts we see that there were shipping routes across the Mediterranean sea. Another thing which happens as empires expand is that they encounter and meet other countries and new cultures. Ancient Roman Culture was basically a giant mixture of the everywhere they invaded. If they encountered a new religion with different Gods then they would take over the temple and add the new God to the rest of their pantheon.
However, today we don’t really have empires in the same way. From the Babylonians to Alexander the Great through to Genghis Khan and the British, Empires have found their strength and their power from their military prowess. The people with the best weapons and the best strategies won the wars and were in charge, essentially, until either: the leader died, a stronger and better army came along, or their economy began to struggle. This continued, really, until the World Wars. 2016 is 102 years since the start of the First World War, 100 years since the deadly battle of the Somme and 77 years since the start of World War Two. The other week was Remembrance Sunday where we remembered the soldiers who died in those wars, and indeed all the wars and conflicts since. Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States during the First World War famously said that it would be ‘The War to end all Wars’. These wars were wars which happened on a scale such as the World has never seen before. There were more countries involved, more soldiers and more battle grounds than had ever happened before. Warfare had developed from the swords and chariots and spears and bows and arrows to guns and bombs, planes and tanks, gas and trenches. Perhaps most significantly, there was the development of the Atomic Bomb, which was deployed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – killing around hundreds of thousands of people within weeks.
The arms race and empire building was now too deadly to be sustainable. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be other wars and conflicts, because we only have to turn on the news to see what’s going on in the world. But there is no one single country or superpower which has conquered or controls the whole world. A world of war turned into a world of diplomacy and politics.
However, the World Wars did reveal one positive thing; just how interconnected the modern world is. Supplies and people had to be transported great distances by the sea or by plane. Messages could be telephoned or radioed to exchange information in minutes rather than hours or even days. There was even a sense of unity which transcended cultural and geographical boundaries. Australians fought alongside Kenyans, American’s alongside Irish and English alongside French – and all manner of combinations of other nationalities working together.
Throughout history, humanity has wanted to explore and map out the whole world. This desire turned into what we now call Globalisation.
The modern world of diplomacy, of communication, conversation and interaction is a truly global one. Especially with the rise of the internet, it has never been easier to trade with the rest of the world and this has impacted our lives in simple and often unexpected or unrealized ways. For instance, imagine getting food shop in Tesco’s. If you buy raspberries they may come from the UK, or they may come from Morocco, or Kenya or Mexico. Your Bananas have often been shipped in from Costa Rica, Ghana or Colombia. Beef may well come from British cows but Lamb is often from New Zealand. Or think about our clothes. My Shoes were apparently made in India, and so were my jeans and my Shirt, while my jacket was made in Vietnam and actually so was my hearing aid. As for my glasses, they were made in China.
This is quite frankly incredible.
But it’s not a utopia or an idyllic paradise.
Globalisation has been a good thing in so far as it has enabled people to be more interconnected than ever. However interconnectedness does not mean the same as fairness, or even goodness.
The uncomfortable truth about my clothes is that they were likely made in a factory by someone working long days for little pay. This is great for businesses which can open factories in poorer parts of the world to be made cheaply in order to make a larger profit when they sell them in richer countries, such as ours. This can be good for us because it means that our food and clothing cost less, letting us stretch our paychecks further to get the things we need. But it can also be bad for us in different ways.
It can impact jobs, particularly industrial jobs. You don’t need me, fresh to the North East from London, to explain the impact that the closure of many of the mines has had. This is a relatively complex situation but at the end of the day there has been a major decline of the coal industry here in the North East while China’s coal industry grew to the best it has ever been in 2014. The mines are not the only industry affected by global competition by any means, arguably the changes to the fishing industry has also been a result, in part, of Globalisation. These are helpful examples that in a global market resources are bought at the most competitive prices available, wherever that may be. To do otherwise would be poor business sense.
But there’s another impact that globalization has had. It has changed the way that we think about power and influence. Instead of the old empire building nations using armies to expand their power, we now live in a political, diplomatic and legal world. It is through conversations, negotiations, agreements and complicated deals that the systems of financial and political power now work.
Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing – it is simply the reality which we live in. The question is how should we engage with that reality?
There are those who want to use this reality to make the best deals they can to make the most money they can. This starts with lobbying governments to make laws which are good for their businesses – which in turn sometimes means making it harder for others. There are governments who try to get the best deals for themselves with other governments; think the United Nations or the European Union. Recently there have been different trade deals such is TTIP and TPP negotiated by lawyers representing banks and businesses which want to help “Standardise” regulations for things such as health care, food and labour laws etc across different countries. This may well seem like practical business sense but it would in effect be a deal made by and for the banks and businesses which could actually limit the ability of governments to regulate and tax them in the ways that they currently can do. Some have suggested that this would actually enable corporations to sue governments to change laws that infringe on their ability to make a profit. Most of us aren’t directly involved in these conversations but we can make our voices heard through both using the Internet and social media, or, more importantly, by voting in local and general elections and in referendums. By voting, we influence both who is in power in this country, and the kinds of ideas and approaches they will take.
We Νο longer live in a world that uses armies of soldiers, but armies of lawyers who represent a new kind of power which can seem to reduce human life to economic value and profit margins. The situation may be different, but we can identify with Habakkuk’s lament of the unfairness of how Babylon was treating the Israelites, we can understand a desire for God to step in and fix things. But God says to him, ‘Look at all the nations, I am doing a work in your days which you would not believe if you were told about it.’
Globalisation has led to an interconnected world where cultures, people, trade and ideas are more interconnected than ever. This has led to good things for us, and it has led to some difficulties for us but there’s another story going on as well. Through the interconnectedness of people and nations more people than ever have the opportunity to hear and encounter the gospel message that God loves us and sent his only Son Jesus Christ to reach out to us. He died for us upon the cross so that we might be forgiven of all our sins and he rose from the dead to eternal life as a living promise of his love for us, which lives in us and our lives by the presence of his Holy Spirit.
This is important, because the Gospel is not just for Christians but it is for the whole world. It is for the blonde girl in Stockholm, it is for the teenagers in Detroit, it is for the family in Beijing and the old couple living in the foothills of the Himalayas and it is for us here in the North East, here in Hartlepool at Stranton and Burbank. In our gospel reading today Jesus says ‘I have come into the World as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’ Elsewhere Jesus talks more about being light. He describes himself as being the light of the world! But more than this, he says to his disciples, and so to us, that we are the light of the world too! We may feel like we are just one small church in one small corner of the north east of a small country in a huge wide world but in this era of globalisation and interconnectedness when we share our faith in Jesus here in Hartlepool there are no limits on where that message could end up, who that message could reach. And when we look at the unfairness and hardships that come with the reality we live in, we should take comfort that Jesus has come to the world not to judge it but to save it; but this doesn’t mean that he simply accepts it or is pleased to leave it as it is. Our God is in the business of transformation, of changing things for the better. It may not always feel like it, but God’s Holy Spirit rests on communities such as ours here in Burbank. He sees our prayers and our worship as a light which flickers in the darkness. As we enter advent, and we wait for Christmas we should watch and see what God will do here in this place because his plan is, As it says in Habakkuk, that the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
I was standing on the wall by the ocean last week, and was struck by the sheer enormity of the world. Next time I see the sea, I’ll be reminded, and I hope you will be too, that this globalised society of ours belongs to God and that someday the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord just as the waters fill the seas