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Two Minutes of Torah

>My Sermon – 15th October – The Good News from Chile

>There are certain events which unite a community. Then there are some events which unite a nation. And occasionally there are events which transcend boundaries and unite the world.

This week we witnessed one of those events.

From the early hours of Wednesday morning, through into Thursday, the world was united. Across the globe, in every continent and every country, we were captivated by a single story. We were transfixed by a single miraculous event.

We watched the inspiring rescue of 33 Chilean miners from an underground prison, which had threatened their lives and their sanity. We watched as a capsule was sent down into the depths of the earth, and we bore witness to the rebirth of each one of the 33 miners as they emerged out of the darkness and into the light.

For a period of just over twenty-four hours no matter where you were in the world, we were all on the same side; we were all hoping and praying for the same outcome, we were united in anticipation.

There was nervous trepidation at first, as we watched the capsule descend and rise; uncertain as to whether it would be able to fulfill its heroic mission. Then, as the capsule bore fruit, rescuing those first few miners, the mood changed to one of anticipation, would this story really have a happy ending? And as the number of miners on the surface grew, the atmosphere became one of charged excitement. Watching the embrace between Chile’s President and the thirty-third man out, Luis Urzua, was a moment of joy, relief, excitement, celebration and gratitude all rolled into one.

Each one of us will have one image or picture which will stay with us from those miraculous 24 hours. I will remember the sight of the daughter of Richard Villarroel Goody, the twenty-eighth miner out. She stood holding her Chilean flag, barely able to contain her excitement at seeing her father again after over two months. As his harness was removed you could hear her calling out, and then we watched as father and daughter embraced, holding onto each other with an intensity we probably can never fully understand.

The topographer, Maria Valdes, whose careful work back in August was crucial in locating the miners, and discovering that they were still alive, said yesterday that the rescue was 75% engineering and 25% miracle. None of us who watched the rescue could fail to acknowledge the miraculous dimension to the proceedings in Chile. The miners were in isolation, without confirmation of life or death for 17 days, and they survived underground for 69 days. It was a miracle they survived, it was a miracle they were found, and it was a miracle that all 33 were rescued alive. Human ingenuity and engineering played its part, but we should have our eyes open to the miracle which we have witnessed.

This is a miracle in which humanity and God played their part together, as the perfect partners. The miners prayed together. Out of the depths they called out to God, and God answered. Ricardo Villaroel, described how the experience of being in the mine renewed his faith in God, he said: ‘I never used to pray, here I learned to pray. I got closer to God.’ Another miner, Jimmy Sanchez, wrote in a letter prior to his rescue: ‘There are actually 34 of us, because God has never left us down here.’ We should see God’s face in the background of this miraculous story, but we should also see the shining beacon which can be humanity.

This was a moment which united the world, across the globe people gathered together to watch and listen to news of the miraculous rescue of the Chilean miners. All too often our news is a depressing drumbeat of negative stories and gloomy incidents. We read about the rise in unemployment and a shaky economy, we see pictures of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we watch as floods and tsunamis rob people of their homes, and we witness the destructive force of man.

But this time we got to watch a good news story, we got to watch a story about rescue and relief, rather than death and destruction.

And we watched it along with the rest of the world. On Thursday morning there was really only one story. Here in Britain, the Daily Telegraph ran with the headline: ‘The Miracle of San Jose’, according to the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant: ‘Hardly anyone had ever heard of the San Jose mine beforehand but now it’s the centre of the world’. The South China Morning Post proclaimed: ‘Prayers, Tears and Jubilation’, and according to Germany’s Die Welt, ‘Nearly a billion people followed the rescue by internet, on the radio or the television’.

In a way that was worthy of the worldwide attention, the meticulously planned rescue was a truly international effort. A U.S. company supplied the drilling technology that broke through to the miners. NASA donated a high-calorie liquid diet. An Austrian company made the capsule’s winch-and-pulley system. And there were numerous offers of help from every corner of the globe.

Why were we in London so concerned with the plight of 33 miners over 7,000 miles away on the other side of the world?

I think that all of us have grown tired and disillusioned with our regular diet of bad news and depressing storylines. The rescue of the Chilean miners allowed us to gain a glimpse of something else. It allowed us to watch a good news story, one which brought us tears of joy, and not sadness. It was a story in which we could take pride in our human achievements, rather than recoiling at human failure and frailty.

We recognised the value of each life, and in the faces of those miners we saw our own fathers, brothers, cousins, nephews, friends and relatives. We recognised the common humanity which we all share. Our eyes were opened to the spark of God present within all of us.

For a moment the world was not divided by colour, creed, race or religion, we were united by our common humanity.

Last week in our Torah we read the story of Noah, and we read about the rainbow which God placed in the sky as a sign of God’s covenant with all of humanity. After the flood and the apocalyptic destruction of virtually the entire world, God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign that God will never destroy the world again, and as a symbol of the covenant between God and all of humanity – not just one religion or another – but with each and every one of us.

The rainbow brings together seven different colours, creating a whole, which is significantly more spectacular and beautiful than the sum of its parts. It is representative of the different elements which make up the human race. We come in all shapes, sizes, colours, creeds, religions and races. Each group possesses an individual beauty, but it is together that humanity is truly spectacular and awe inspiring.

The rainbow was the symbol for a united humanity in the Torah, and this week 33 miners became our modern sign that this dream is still possible.

This week we watched 33 miners emerge from darkness into light, and as a world we waited together, we watched together and we celebrated together. The rescue was a miracle, but so too was the way in which we gained a glimpse into the potential we have to come together, putting aside petty divisions and disagreements to share in the successes and accomplishments of the whole human race.

On this desolate patch of Chilean desert, in a place called Camp Hope, we were given a clear message: Human life is precious and we must all be united in saving and preserving it. This week as we saw the world united, we gained a glimpse of the messianic age. It is now our task to take the experiences of this past week forward and to build a world in which we are united not just in the face of adversity, but in the faces of each other.

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