The story is told of a colony of chimpanzees that were being observed 24/7 in the wild. All their routines and habits were identified, catalogued and examined. One day those observing the colony noticed a younger chimpanzee entering the nearby river and washing the food she was about to eat. Soon another, having noticed what she was doing, went and did the same. Then another, and another, until there was a sudden surge of chimpanzees as over half the colony went into the now muddy water and started washing their food. This moment, recorded and investigated, became known as ‘the tipping point’, the moment when the action of one, became the action of nearly all. It effectively marked a cultural shift within the colony. We have seen it ourselves quite recently around the wearing of masks and face coverings. Less than a year ago there was a huge debate around whether people should, or even would, wear a mask. And now, it is almost universal. I say ‘almost’ because there are still some who refuse, but also now a growing number who have begun taking off their masks because they have been fully vaccinated; forgetting that the purpose of wearing masks is not protecting yourself, but actually protecting others. So a ‘tipping point’ can be positive or negative in its societal impact.
This past fifteen months have taught us a lot about the importance of science. What has been achieved globally around vaccines has been remarkable for its speed and efficiency. Of course there has been challenges, mistakes are undoubtedly being made. It’s a human reality, and a reminder that science has never been about absolutes or perfection, it has been about learning and process. I for one am immensely grateful for everyone who has worked tirelessly to beat this pandemic with safe and reliable vaccines. I do ‘trust the science’, as many are asking us to do, but I also acknowledge that scientific understanding and development is an ever-changing thing. It is fluid, always changing and updating. The Global success in producing a number of vaccines has been inspirational, the political response has been worrying. I’m always intrigued at how our broken human nature can both subtly (and blatantly) descend into self-interest and personal survival. The squabbling, bickering and commercialisation around the vaccines has been ugly, unwarranted and shameful. The divide between wealthy and poorer nations has increased dramatically in the past 15 months. There are no absolutes in politics (with a small ‘p’), in fact politics and national supremacy thrive on the lack of moral and ethical fibre in how nations relate to each other. This can be seen further in the clamour for vaccines, and the piece-meal support to the COVAXX initiative. But it can be seen, even more starkly in our global response to the Climate Change Crisis. While much lip service is paid by political leaders across the world to the need to do something, nuance and subtlety quicky enter the narrative, as our leaders speak of our need to compromise some things for economic and political reasons. The re-emergence of the US as a world leader in this area is welcome but even here there is self-interest and intense lobbying at work. Meanwhile politicians and world leaders, like Nero, ‘fiddle’ while the earth burns.
While the Church has rightly lost its moral authority due to our scandalous behaviours and autocracy, it is essential that we re-claim our prophetic calling, not from a position of authority, but from a new humility and servanthood. We are told in Acts 11:26 that ‘the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch’. The word ‘Christian’ literally means ‘Little Christs’. This is an important insight in that, on our own we are of little import or influence, however with Christ within us we all have a calling to be Little Christs; to ask ourselves constantly ‘what would Jesus do?’, but also, ‘what would Jesus have us do?’ When you go back to the teachings of Jesus, he is consistently counter cultural. When the world says, ‘Look only to the good of yourself and your loved ones’, Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you!’ When the world urges you to protect your property and possessions at any cost, Jesus says ‘if someone steals your shirt, give him your tunic also’, ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘walk the extra mile!’ Being ‘Little Christs’ is not easy, not if we follow fully all Jesus’ teachings and instructions; but it is the one sure way to change the world. DL Moody wrote, ‘the world has yet to see what God can do with one [person] who is fully consecrated to him’. The words were not his own but a passing comment from Henry Varley who had no recollection that he had even said it, but the words seared into Moody’s heart and became the standard by which he lived his life. To be ‘fully consecrated’ to God is to surrender ourselves to Him, definitely a ‘counter-cultural’ action. And yet, within that surrender lies the seeds of absolute freedom, not to do whatever we want, but to live lives free of fear, frustration and folly.
These days of ‘Rogation’ – a short season of prayer and fasting before we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, are ladened with possibilities, seeds have been planted, new life is emerging, the world is changing. Science has much to teach us, even politics has its potential, but the world has yet to see the true tipping point when Little Christs simply serve, follow and obey the One who gave up everything for us all. Why not you…? Why not now…? Why not…?