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No Small People

Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic says:

"We live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain."

Havel is not the first to have said it, but what makes his comment interesting is that he is the first non-communist president of what was Czechoslovakia to speak that way. Communist doctrine was built on materialism: what you can see, touch, taste, hear and feel is all there is to reality. Marx built his theory on a radical vision that the material world is all there is and called religion "the opiate of the people." His version of mankind was that we find our meaning and our purpose from the community in which we live, the state to be precise.

The modern world was built on an assumption not too different in its own way. We inherited the scientific view of reality. That view of reality is similar to Marx in that it too is materialistic. The scientist says that the only version of reality that . . .
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor Psalm 8:3-5


Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic says:
 we live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain. 1

Havel is not the first to have said it, but what makes his comment interesting is that he is the first non-communist president of what was Czechoslovakia to speak that way. Communist doctrine was built on materialism: what you can see, touch, taste, hear and feel is all there is to reality. Marx built his theory on a radical vision that the material world is all there is and called religion "the opiate of the people." His version of mankind was that we find our meaning and our purpose from the community in which we live, the state to be precise.

The modern world was built on an assumption not too different in its own way. We inherited the scientific view of reality. That view of reality is similar to Marx in that it too is materialistic. The scientist says that the only version of reality that counts is that which can be empirically verified. If it can be tested and proven by physics, mathematics or other of the scientific disciplines then it is real. If it cannot then you cannot speak of it as having any sense of truth or reliability to it. This was universally believed to be true and with it that there were universally accepted standards of truth.

A theologian named Frances Schaeffer forsaw the downfall of this way of thinking in the 1960's and spoke of modern man living in a two story house. The bottom floor was the scientific view or reality, but there were no doors or windows in the bottom floor. Science defined reality and human existence in a totally closed system. Schaeffer predicted that humanity could not live in such a sterile world and saw modern liberalism living in a second story universe filled with statements of meaning and purpose, but grounded on nothing, just floating about with no roots. He foresaw what we call post-modernism.

Most of us are still firmly established in a scientific view of reality, but our culture is moving away from us...rapidly.
Ethics, purpose and meaning have no ultimate grounding and can mean whatever the observer wants them to mean.
Remember my quoting Peter Singer, the Princeton philosopher who is an example of the totally post-modern man, grounded nowhere in his second story world? He can say with no apparent sense of the horror of his statement that infanticide is not morally wrong provided the parents have a good enough reason.

The communits said we find our meaning in our allegiance to the state.
The post modernists would say we find meaning any way we choose to find it.
Human life has no absolute and intrinsic value. Its value is dependent on who is doing the valuing. If no one values you as a person then you may just be out of luck.

But by contrast we read Psalm 8
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

There is a totally different way of determining meaning and values. We can receive them as given by our creator.
In a post modern world where it depends on who is valuing a life, we can all say that we have meaning and purpose to our lives because they are valued by our creator.

What's more, anyone can know their value. You don't have to be a scientist or philosopher, in fact in some ways scientists and philosophers have greater difficulty understanding. But God has said in Psalm 8, "from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise."

Jesus said that unless we come to God as a little child we cannot come. What he means is that we come with no pretension or arrogance, but in an open and trusting frame of mind. We come believing that we have worth because as the hymn says, "Jesus loves me, this I know."

We live in a world where its easy to get lost and to feel lost, but in God's world there are no small people. There are no persons who are any more valuable and there are none any less valuable.
The downs syndrome child is every bit as valuable as the prodigy. The child or wealth is just as valuable as the child of poverty. In fact, the defenseless, the humble, the weak and the poor have a special place in God's love.

Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche has pointed out to us that we need the weak and the broken ones in our midst because it is precisely by our treatment of the weak and defenseless that defines our humanity and our values. The broken ones reflect our humanity back to us. Just ask anyone who works with them. You go presuming you are giving to them and you return the richer for having been with them.

It is through the mouths of children, the poor and the broken that God has ordained praise.

Havel ends his speech in the US with these words,
The Declaration of Independence states that the Creator gave man the right to liberty. It seems man can realize that liberty only if he does not forget the One who endowed him with it.2

Who are we?
We are His.
O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is your name in all the earth.
Amen


Preached May 22, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

Notes
1.   Vaclav Havel, from a speech given at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, July 4, 1994.
2.  ibid.
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