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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.

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