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Sunday, 5 February 2017

Flying sparrows and an impish saviour

3rd February 2008

Mal. 3.1-4
Ps. 84
Heb. 2.14-18
Lk. 2.22-40

We normally bring children into the world charged with the excitement and joy of an unwritten, open, unblemished script full of potential, full of love and excitement and all the opportunity that new life brings. Perhaps we have dreams, too, of rewriting imagined wrongs in our own childhood, avoiding perceived criminal errors that our parents made, perfecting in the course of our life the art of parenthood. We know we’ll get it right. This child will have the perfect childhood.
Was Mary, too, full of such dreams, as the miracle baby she had birthed grew up in downtown Nazareth? We don’t know how long Joseph lived to share the dream, but did he too watch the child with a father’s love, and ponder puzzlement in his heart? Was the child a chip of the old man’s block? The child Jesus was no easy prospect: we read after our present story of the young adolescent Jesus missing the caravan back to Nazareth after his whanau visited the Temple. Did the child stretch the resources of his earthly parents? By the end of the second century beautiful stories were circulating about the child Jesus, like this from the so-called Infancy Gospel of Thomas:
1) When the boy Jesus was five years old, he was playing in a narrow part of a rushing stream. (2) He was gathering the flowing waters into ponds, and immediately they were made clean, and he ordered these things with a single word. (3) And after he made clay, he molded twelve sparrows from it. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things. But there were also many other children playing with him.(4) Then, a certain Jew saw what Jesus was doing while playing on the Sabbath. Immediately, he departed and reported to Jesus' father, Joseph, "Look, your child is in the stream and he took clay and formed twelve birds and profaned the Sabbath?"(5) And Joseph went to the area and when he saw him, he shouted, "Why are you doing these things that are not permitted on the Sabbath?"(6) Jesus, however, clapped his hands and shouted to the sparrows, "Depart, fly, and remember me now that you are alive." And the sparrows departed shrieking.(7) When the Jews saw this, they were amazed. After they had gone away, they described to their leaders what they had seen Jesus do.

We may not automatically relate to such a story, but apart from its profound associations of the boy Jesus with creating Word of God, it should also carry hints for us of the difficulties that lay ahead for Mary and Joseph in the years after the complex birth of Jesus and presentation of the child in the Temple after his birth.
Perhaps Mary and Joseph made mistakes in their upbringing of this tricky child. But for all that they presented him, as their firstborn, in the Temple, making appropriate offerings and sharing with God their hopes and dreams. There was much pain ahead: the glimpses we have of Mary are glimpses that are open to all the pain of parenthood – but it was pain deep within the heart and purposes of the Creator, too. Perhaps, at the very least, that is why we sometimes offer our lives and the lives of those we love to God: deep in the heart of God is an understanding of the human journey in all its risks and uncertainties?
Almost every month our media reverberates with the news of some new child who has died a bitter and bloodied death at the hand of some form of abuse. Hopefully we cringe at the thought of such horror – for if we don’t then our compassion fatigue has become so advanced that it’s a pathology. Hopefully we don’t judge – every parent has known the sheer exasperation involved in caring for a screaming child. Nevertheless we must surely know that New Zealand’s status as having one of the highest child abuse rates in the western world is a tragedy beyond comprehension. Thousands of New Zealand children are beaten and sexually abused (often both) every day of the year. The perpetrators of such abuse have often been victims themselves, and the victims that more or less survive will often go on to be perpetrators. The Hebrew scriptural wisdom that speaks of the sins of the fathers passing on generation after generation is a timeless wisdom – and is an inescapable wisdom unless cycles of violence are broken.
In the Christian community, while tragic mistakes have been made, we nevertheless adhere to a belief that can break cycles of violence. We hold to a story that speaks of love and compassion and justice. Ours is not a flavour of the month story, but it is an ancient story. It is not a story about perfect parenting, but is a story about what may be called, as Bruno Bettleheim once put it, ‘good enough parenting.’ Mary and Joseph may have been puzzled by the child that they offered in love to their Creator God, but they did not repress their puzzlement in cycles of substance abuse and violence, or throw out their beliefs in a God who receives and loves and cares and breathes resurrection hope into the lives of each child that is offered to him. Mary and Joseph brought their child up knowing the Creator, learning the rhythms of faith. We know that child as the Son of God, but that became clear only after the events of the first Easter – and Mary and Joseph had no hotline to understanding the complexities of the Jesus-child’s life.
There is risk in the sharing of love with another person. At the very least there is the risk of future separation – psychologists often speak of ‘parturition’, the moment of separation at birth, as being the beginning of a journey of bereavement. But it is a separation that we believe leads into reunion and the resurrection hope of Easter. It is separation that is not the final word. When Jesus was presented at the Temple it was Joseph and Mary’s act of connecting him to the Hebrew story of the people of God. It was not an insurance possibility against the possibility of a hard road ahead, as surely the life of Jesus shows. It was however an act of integration into the possibilities of God.
When we baptize our children we do the same. But arguably more important than that, when we bring them up exposed too, perhaps immersed or saturated in the story of Jesus, then we are offering them a different narrative to the drug and anger-fuelled stories that have claimed the lives of too many New Zealand children. The Christian journey is not terribly chic, but many of the alternatives are seriously bleak and destructive. Just as Jesus was presented in the Temple, so we can present the lives of our tamariki, and indeed our own lives, for the breathings of God.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

thoughts of an injured martyr?


Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

This week Donald Trump picks up the reins of the free world, enshrining the politics of lies and hate like no western leader has done since the Weimar Republic. Forget red herrings of sexual deviation, golden showers and crotch grabbing: Trump enshrines an evil greater still.
A few days ago a saintly and revered leader of the Anglican Church died. The media yawned. 
The pews of our cathedral sit empty.
Is there a connection between these observations and a prickly letter sent by Paul to the people of Corinth?
Unlike Nixon or McCarthy, years ago, or Bush and Blair more recently, Trump has not  bothered to provide plausibility or consistency in his embodiment of The Lie. The Lie is currency.
Trump rejects all pretence of truth, because he can. He can because we have not only, as Neil Postman prophesied, amused ourselves to death, built media on infotainment and abandoned all pretence of analysis, but because we have decided that fake news and clichés of hatred are the currency of conversation.
In the fourth gospel John contrasts Jesus and Satan. Jesus embodies grace and truth. Satan embodies lies and self-interest. Jesus divides liars from truth-tellers, the complacent from the struggling, exclusion from embrace. Brueggemann says ‘There is nothing innocuous or safe about the gospel. Jesus did not get crucified because he was a nice man.’ Jesus divides niceness from integrity. Above all he calls Satan the Father of lies.
In scripture, the Holy Spirit creates order out of chaos (and I don’t mean disorganization). We reverse that when we turn lies into truth and truth into lies. That’s why in Gulliver’s Travels Swift’s honest, gentle Houhynyms call lies ‘that which is not’. To call lies truth and vice versa is to return to the chaos of pre-Creation, the realm of the absence of God. Life-denying chaos is all that is left when we make lies, hatreds, exclusions our truth. We as a God-people must contrast with that.
Proclaiming a chaos of lies is Trump’s tactic, but we embrace it too when we allow Chinese whispers, half-truths, and innuendos to become our compass. We ignore at peril the furious warnings written in the epistle of James. To James the tongue is humanity’s most destructive weapon: ‘restless, evil, full of poison.’ Trump’s lies are far more dangerous than his sexual deviations. Twisted truths of lying tongues masquerading as decency breed chaos, slanderous and destructive. First Isaiah cries out against chaos: ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.’ Woe to those who enshrine lies as truth and act upon them.
A year ago I suggested that we need to look deep and honestly into cathedral narratives if we are to be kaitiaki of the truth of Jesus. Embrace, inclusion, aroha: these are currency of God. If a misguided parishioner attempts to turn away a Māori visitor, questioning whether they are in the right place, then we are not a people of embrace. If new-comers bring new ideas, and we remonstrate ‘that’s not what we do here’, then we adopt Trump’s lies We claim to make our narrative great again, but instead fossilize ourselves in a dubious past.  Take Easter: did what we do speak of the risen Lord to new generations, embrace those rarely here, the key to our future? Will ‘the way we’ve always done it’ convey resurrection-joy, or will joyous children fanning bubbles from the mezzanine, heart-felt waiata of loving whanau, tears of a newly baptized adult surrounded by the symbols and the presence and outpoured arohanui of the risen Christ? Both-and of course, but the God of Resurrection-dance does not always march in ordered Anglican niceness, ‘the way we’ve always done it.’
Liturgically, in response to the pronouncement ‘We are the body of Christ,’ we respond ‘God’s Spirit is with us’. Is she? Have we desiccated that Spirit, dried her out, and left only dusty bones of former-faith? Is that why our pews are empty? We come to the altar flawed; I have never denied that in my stumbling journey. If we point fingers at others, dance on the graves of stumblers, ignore often well-attested planks in our own eyes, blots in our private lives, if we are ruled by sclerotic hearts, desiccated spirits, then we consume the Feast to our own condemnation. The Book of Common Prayer emphasized that, but that was disused here before I came.
We deserve marginalization, if we live in such a way that we lie when we claim to be the Body of Christ. We become the Body of un-Christ. We are sucked into Trump’s world no matter how different we think our politics might be to his. That is why we have now arrived at a place so far from public consciousness that the death this past week of a much-loved archbishop is barely noted in the media (Māori TV excepted). In Paul’s phrase we are ‘handed over,’  sent by God to the margins. Church leaders must recognize this: the world does not even notice ecclesiastical media pronouncements. In a post-Empire, post-institution world our grand buildings, like those of railways and banks and post offices, are empty. We must adapt, for this is God’s judgement, and humility, brokenness and repentance are the only cure. God’s Spirit is birthing new life outside our forbidding walls. Soon it may be there alone we find resurrection, faith, and life.
When I last voiced thoughts like these a colleague wrote, ‘The Dean's Report … was, amidst a number of inaccuracies and half-truths … a litany of criticisms involving myself, other clergy and significant laypeople. The Dean himself was always the innocent and injured martyr.’
Perhaps, but doubtfully so. But if lies, like those that deposed this dean, are subscribed to as truth, then we are a people of chaos, and lies win. That priest later expressed the hope that the knife would slip when the barber was here to shave my head in support of “Shave for a Cure.” Love and hate language, like truth, are a measure of the presence of God’s Spirit. When a member of vestry wrote, following my dismissal, ‘You should know that I actively pushed for this, and have been working on it for a long time,’ he dangerously forgot the New Testament. While authority can be abused, we must discern whether words like ‘I actively pushed for this’ are statements of Christ-light and life, or words of Trump-world, of hatred, of subterfuge. I leave you to decide, and those with greater authority than mine to address these issues, or preside over a sclerotic institution.
I left you longer than a pregnancy ago. The journey for me since then has been one in which the arohanui of the people of Te Pou Herenga Waka o te Whakapono has exemplified the inclusive love and embrace that the prophets spoke of and Jesus embodied. Te Pou Herenga Waka o te Whakapono has reminded me that there is love and integrity when a faith community remains a humble people of God. Strengthened by their prayers and others’, I am left to speak a word from the Word in a world in which Trump is leader. I finish with Paul, my biblical muse.
When Paul left Corinth he left a community riddled with faith-arrogance. Aren’t we good, its leaders declared. Look at the fine performances we stage, the fine sexual experimentation we advertise, the fine meat we serve at table, the fine surrounds in which we say our perfectly enunciated prayers. Paul, with his imperfections, was scorned. ‘I follow Apollos,’ declared some. ‘I follow Cephas’ declared others. Some claimed to follow Christ, but there are indications in context that they were fooling themselves: ‘Look at the perfect way in which I follow Christ.’.
Broken followers of Jesus were silenced. ‘I have tatoos.’ ‘I committed adultery.’  ‘I carried a bird on my shoulder.’ ‘I did not shower before I fell asleep on a welcoming couch in a friendly foyer.’ Paul slams hardest of all those who deny the Resurrection. They were ‘more to be pitied than all.’ They had removed from their self-interested narrative all fear of God the judge. They had nothing but a dead cockroach in a dusty chalice, no word of hope in their decaying world of Empire. Yet they were nonchalant, complacent, expecting the world to walk across the street to enter the doors of faith.
The epistles address a world of complacent faith. Do we, kaitiaki o te whakapono,[1] caretake cockroaches in dusty chalices? Or do we become a counterculture of Resurrection-faith and hope, our herenga-anchor deep in the flesh of the risen Christ, deep in the embracing, dancing, community-facing triune God Jesus reveals?
As kaitiaki o te whakapono do we establish committees and mission statements, rejoicing in the self-satisfaction this can bring? As younger generations, conspicuously absent here, search for spirit-integrity, do we provide it? We pride ourselves on our dignified silences as we close a liturgy, but perhaps instead we should learn to dance and clap because: God. If we applaud a tirade by a retired priest criticising his colleague in absentia, we must make sure we are not the same people who silence spontaneous applause at the close of a voluntary. The latter has expressed the awe and truth of God-beyond-words: to clap may be our heartfelt amen for we have stroked the heavens. If we applaud vindictive speeches but silence spontaneous awe we may be wearing phylacteries in the market-place.
We must learn to dance and sing with the God of wild crazy sunsets and manic-intricate butterfly wings. We must heart-feel the God of Bach fugue, but also the Beatles and Bon Jovi and Adele and Ed Sheeran and every ‘mad mystic hammering of wild rippling hail.’ We must both-and, but which will most bring others to joy-filled embrace of the risen Christ?
We must not fearfully collude with the culture of The Lie that has swept Trump into reality on narratives of fear. We must stand with the all but drowned-out voices of compassion and love, with the ‘aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed, [with] the countless confused, accused, misused strung out ones and worse,’ with broken lives who feel unable to enter a forbidding building to stutter prayers. We must not clutch tenaciously to shibboleths like the false claim that there is one way to be cathedral, to do music, to do order and liturgy. Washington’s National Cathedral’s appalling decision this week to dance with the Trump-devil stands as a warning as to where ‘we do it best’ can lead.
Let’s dance with the Saviour who brought tax collectors down from the tree and invited prostitutes to dinner. Let’s dance anew with the generations who are not here, never shutting the door, never believing our old way of doing things is the golden calf, never believing, dear God, that tattoos and hip hop and mad manic God-love are not welcome here in our echo chamber.
The choice is ours.
Or yours, really. I won’t be back. But, just as Paul prayed for the people of Corinth, I will pray that you find and help others find and dance with the risen, joy-filled Christ, the Christ of inclusion not exclusion, of embrace not repulse, of generous truth not fear-filled lies, the Christ of exhilarating dance and beating heart and mad, mystic resurrection-hope, the Christ who, in the words of his apostle, ‘will strengthen you to the end, so that you may not be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’


[1] custodians of the faith

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Another interruption to the scattercast

I posted some months ago On May 10th, in fact, that I was no longer practising as a priest or preacher. While I could not say anything much at that time, it followed on my dismissal, technically "deprivation", as Dean of Waiapu.

This announcement from the Bishop of Waiapu makes it clear that the imposition of deprivation was errant. With reference to the canons (laws) of the Church under which I was dismissed/deprived in May, the Appeals Tribunal of the New Zealand Anglican Church determined:

(a) that in interpreting the Canon to include an obligation to disclose misconduct to a licensing Bishop, Bishop Hedge made an error of law;

(b) that in imposing an outcome where there was no misconduct Bishop Hedge made another error of law by acting ultra vires;

(c) that in the event the canon could have been interpreted as imposing an obligation to disclose, Bishop Hedge acted on wrong principle in that in breach of minimum standards of procedure he failed to put that allegation to Dr Godfrey;

(d) that in the event the canon could have been interpreted as imposing an obligation to disclose, Bishop Hedge acted further on wrong principle in that he moved to determination and the imposition of outcome without either first referring the matter to a Tribunal of Determination for findings or receiving from Dr Godfrey a formal admission in writing of misconduct

I have however decided to look at alternative options for the future, so these sermon-reflections will, with the exception of a sermon in mid-January when I conduct a farewell service at the cathedral, continue to be retrospective for the foreseeable future.

I shall shortly pick up the practice of non-sermon reflections on my currently dormant Pivotal Pokes Blog ... which may be a little less restrained!

kings in wrong places

This was written and spoken nine years ago: as we watch the rise of Trumpism et al, political extremisms emerging around the world, we might reflect anew on the dangers of looking for kings in the wrong place, in the power- and hate- paradigm that has so often been thought to be the right place.

It was written for the Feast of Christ the King, but as we prepare in advent to welcome a king in an unexpected place, it might do no harm to "translocate" these thoughts.

 (25th NOVEMBER) 2007


Jer. 23.1-6
For Psalm Luke 1.68-79 (as in NZPB / HKMoA 85)
Col. 1.11-20
Luke 23.33-45

 What is this kingship of Christ that we celebrate and proclaim? When Pius xii introduced the feast of Christ the King into the Roman Catholic calendar in the 1920s – originally on the last Sunday in October – he did so as a way of countering the claims to salvation being made by the Marxist and Nationalist-Fascist extremes of European society. By Vatican ii in the 1960s one of those political extremes, and in the years since, both those extremes have largely crumbled in mainstream western society – at least for the time being. Yet the Feast can and should still speak to us as we conclude our faith-year, our cycle of prayer, reading and liturgy

All year [2007] I have spoken of our call to be a counter-culture, what German theologian Gerhard Lohfink called ‘a contrast society of Jesus.’ Lohfink was a theologian who grew up in Nazi Germany, and once tellingly commented “I saw men and women who were forced to sew a yellow star of David on their garments; then one day I didn’t see them any more.” It was a memory that remained with him all his life (well actually he may be still alive!): some of us may have seen the corny but for once accurate bumper sticker that reads ‘If a court tried you for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you.’ Unfortunately the bumper sticker, like most Christian bumper stickers, is too smarmy and self-righteous. The sticker ignores the complex historic and everyday tragedy of many people who live and die for this faith of ours, and at the same time ignores the minor human detail that many of us might fail under duress to remain true to our faith – though we pray God that would not be the case. We would be better off allowing our lives, rather than our bumpers, to speak of our faith.

Gerhardt Lohfink, like many since, saw clearly that the earliest Christian writings were not about a ‘me and my mate Jesus’ individual salvation but about communities of faith springing up in an often hostile world, simultaneously providing community for members and a challenge to outsiders. By their lives they were to speak of resurrection, of hope, of love, of justice: and so are we. They were to challenge unjust structures as well as individual human beings to consider the values of God.
By doing this they would speak, as Jesus put it, of a ‘Kingdom not of this world.’ They would witness to the Reign, the Kingship of Christ. But what is this Kingship? It, too, is a Kinship of contrast. Caesar's was a kingship of power reinforced by massive military might. The Kingship of Jesus, as the author of the letter to the Colossians put it, was one revealed ‘through the blood of the cross’, revealed in brokenness and shame, execution and death. It is a kingship won not in great victory, but in shattering defeat: it is conspicuously not ‘of this world’, but of another world with contrasting values. It is a kingship not for the victorious, but for the vulnerable, the imperfect, for those who know themselves to be in need. It is a kingship that speaks to those dying alongside it on a cross, and speaks not to condemn but to invite those willing to accept its terms of love.
It is at the same time the kingship of Creation. The author of the letter to the Colossians sees not only the brokenness but sees too the cosmic dimensions of the crucified Christ. This is the one who, as we shall sing later in Kendrick’s classic hymn ("The Servant King") had ‘Hands that flung stars into space / to cruel nails surrendered.’ This is a kingship and a salvation of the whole range of Creation: this is, as our friends in the Orthodox churches see so clearly, the redemption of all creation: ‘in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.’
We can begin to grasp this kingship only when we begin to grasp the ‘For Us’ dimension of Christ’s self-sacrifice. This is kingship pro nobis, for us. This is ‘our God, the Servant King’, crucified yet conquering death for us, and for those we love and weep for, for those we neglect, for the wretched of the earth, and even then, perhaps, for the Big Players, the Caesars of God’s earth. As we grasp and live that dream of God we become the contrast society of Jesus that Gerhard Lohfink saw, so tragically, that we were not when the Jewish people were led, conspicuous by their stars to the death camps of Europe. As we become a people who are conspicuous by our living and speaking of resurrection, of hope, of love, of justice and of all that Christ was and is, then we will be the contrast Society of King Jesus we are meant to be.


Friday, 7 October 2016

here's to prickly prophets

(24th JUNE) 2007


Isaiah 49.1-6
Psalm 138.1-15
Acts 13.22-26
Luke 1.57-66, 80

Somewhere, a few years before the public ministry of Jesus began, an awkward figure made his presence felt on Palestinian soil. John the Baptist was a James K. Baxter figure: the sand in the shoe, the conscience of a nation. He challenged injustice and could not survive in a world whose conscience he irritated, and so was executed at the end of the demonic dance of Salome.
But that was the end of John’s story, and today we celebrate the beginning. Like Jesus his kinsman, tales of the miraculous intervention of God surround his birth. A barren woman conceives: as people well versed in the Hebrew scriptures we should recall another barren and post-menopausal woman, long before, whose obedience to God led to the birth of a nation. This new birth is used by Luke to serve a different end. Luke wants us to see not a beginning but an end of a nation in this new miraculous birth. This is the end of a period in which a people more or less kept faith with God, but is the beginning, too, of the miraculous Christ-event. Now God enters history in an unprecedented and unrepeatable way. This end of an era is not the replacement of an outdated model, but the handing over of the baton of God’s love for humanity: the era of the prophets is over, and the era of Jesus has begun. There is continuity between the eras: this is not out with the old and in with the new, but a God-breathed change of direction, as the gifts of God to the Chosen People are now extended to all creation.
John the Baptist straddles two worlds. He reminds us that obedience to God’s call is a risky business: to speak of the values of God is to risk loss of limb or life. The invitation to follow in the way of God is an invitation to upset comfort zones, wherever comfort zones are oppressive, or where the comfort of a few is won at the cost of  the discomfort of many. We only have to look at the economic imbalances of our world (to which I contribute every day) to know that nothing is new under the sun. We can at the very least look deep within our society to see who it is who is speaking unsettling good news to the poor, and see the spark of Christ in discomforting and challenging places.
John the Baptist reminds us that wherever justice is spoken in the name of God, there God is. John stands as a bridge connecting two great faiths based on the father­hood of Abraham. He reminds us, starkly, that we must never condone atrocities perpetrated on the Hebrew people of God, for the Jewish People’s prophet John is our prophet John. There is no excuse for Christianity’s dreadful treatment of the Hebrews down through the ages. Yet at the same time we are not to confuse our respect for the Hebrew prophet John, or any other Hebrew prophet, with sycophantic adoration of all things done in the name of and by the hand of the modern State of Israel. Many Christian groups have been seduced into a confusion of the political entity whose seat of power is Tel Aviv with the spiritual entity whose heartbeat is Jerusalem, the city of peace. Sometimes the two will overlap, but not always and perhaps not often. John wore a coat of camel hair and a girdle of leather, not flak jackets and a holster.
Perhaps John can remind us that when our cousins in faith the Hebrew people speak justice, there we serve as one in the purposes of God. Where they have been oppressed and all but annihilated, to our shame we have failed to speak. For that we must always remember our guilt. Where they speak oppression, as they have for many years in their attitudes to the Palestinian peoples, we should speak with the voice of their prophetic tradition. By the same token we must learn to listen at times when we have oppressed the peoples and species of God’s earth. We can work together on the extremities of faith and justice, while recognizing historical differences between us, and together celebrating the mutual relationship we have with God the God of Covenant and Cross.
These are however big picture issues, and John speaks not only to the big picture. For John must stand for at least two more prickly challenges within our faith journey. The purpose of John’s ministry, as his namesake John the Evangelist tells us, was to testify to the light. By word and action, by challenging and setting to right injustices, by compassionate and loving action, by caring and more, we must demonstrate that ours are lives invaded by the light. We are not the light, thank God, but have a com­mission to testify, like John, to the light that invades and transforms our lives and can invade and transform lives around us.
We are not the light, and we often muddy the light, but we are called to tell of the light nevertheless. To that end we must with all our might support initiatives that heal the lives of the broken, transform the lives of the skill-less, and shine light into the lives of the darkened. Through our own lives in the community, and through the work of agencies of compassion, we must testify to the light that is the risen Christ within us. John, in many ways, is us: like him we must allow ourselves to decrease and Christ in us to increase, until with Paul we can eventually say by the grace of God ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’


Friday, 30 September 2016

Amusing Ourselves to Death




(October  2nd) 2016


Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

When I was at seminary and Ronald Reagan was leader of the free world, I read Neil Postman’s wonder book Amusing Ourselves to Death. His premise was that we get the leadership we deserve, because we have allowed ourselves to surrender information and analysis for entertainment. On the front cover was a picture of Reagan with a big red clown nose – these being years before the clown nose became a fundraising symbol for SIDS.
It has long been a ploy of the fundamentalist wings of Christianity to interpret natural calamities as a sign of God’s displeasure at something they, the fundamentalists, don’t like. Normally it’s something to do with human sexuality. Google ‘earthquake,’ ‘Christchurch’ and ‘God’s judgement’ and some chilling scenarios emerge. Google ‘Hurricane Katrina,’ and ‘God’s judgement’ and you’ll find worse. The words you’ll find under those searches are often bitter distortions of Christianity. The same writers don’t seem to equate Donald Trump with God’s judgement, and many US fundamentalist leaders have come out with powerful statements of support for this philandering, oft-bankrupted, misogynistic and xenophobic narcissist as one of God’s chosen prophets.
Jesus of course may have meant something like this when he said ‘there will be many who call Lord, Lord.’ I see few fruits of the Christianity or Christ Spirit Trump claims to embrace, an allegiance he appears to claim only when convenient. As I turn to the scriptures of our faith, and especially the prophets, I find some very dire warnings about those who play games with God or who, as Torah puts it, those use the name of t we find some of the most heartbroken cries of judgement for a people who will not serve God: How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
The world, with the United States at its forefront, is receiving the deep chastisement of God. As it happens I was no fan of Ronald Reagan, and see his presidency with no great rose coloured spectacles even in retrospect. But if he was a clown, the 1980s endgame of amusing ourselves to death, the sight of Donald Trump and others waiting on the wings to be like him is a much more dire warning to the western world, the global north. This is no clown, but Frankenstein’s monster tapping at the door of civilization, and we should be very sure indeed, as Marie reminded us a week ago, that we ‘place our hand in the hand of the one who stilled the waters.’ It is worth remembering, the extent to which we need Jesus, as we watch the attitudes and antics of a prospective leader of the free world (not that we have a vote!). It is worth noting, too, that despite climate change deniers like Trump, last month Mother Earth passed what is considered to be the watershed of the 400 ppm mark of airborne carbon dioxide measurement; sometimes God chooses to hand creation over to humanity’s folly.
The Hebrew people failed to hear the words of the prophets, and the nation was eventually torn asunder by the invader Cyrus, an invader Isaiah dared to call the servant of God. I make no predictions about the future of America, except that America and the so-called free world it leads will not be ultimately or eternally lost to God. The Hebrews were cast into exile. There they found it hard to sing the Lord’s song, and grew so embittered that they threated to dash their enemies’ children to death on the rocks. It is the cry of hatred that responds across the streets of Aleppo in Syria at this very moment. Many of my former colleagues in the Diocese of Waiapu did their best to remove the bitter verses of the psalms from worship, yet we must not: but until we learn that we too are capable of bitterness, anger, greed, and despair we will not bring ourselves, our whole selves to God, and will not have the honesty to be God’s repentant, broken people.
God allowed the Israelites to face the consequences of their own actions. God’s judgement was harsh: ‘By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and wept.’ America and the global north’s judgement (and that may include our judgement, though we are a tiny nation) may also be harsh. God will not send earthquakes – they happen anyway – but may lead the world’s greedy nations to face their own fall at the hands of narcissists, be it a Trump or his successors in hatred.
For us the task is to pray for God’s world, to pray for ourselves, that we may be conspicuous as channels of love and largesse when we are surrounded by hate and greed. Our task is to ask God’s Spirit to keep alive in us the glorious good news of reconciliation and forgiveness made possible in Jesus, and in that way to be the mustard seeds of the reign of God.