The fallacy of fascism
This sermon was delivered at Welling Methodist Church on 15 Sept 2019 where I was invited to preach as my second cousin is a steward there:
I have recently joined the facebook page promoting Welling and t seems there is quite a sense of community here. It is nice to see the positive posts amid all the news relating to much darker themes.
An American President overseeing the removal of children from their parents – openly encouraging racial hatred and claiming to be like the King of Israel. A Brazilian Premier playing power games whilst the Amazon burns. A Prime Minister at war with parliament, backing the voices of separation
Against that background, the lectionary provides us today with readings from the book of Jeremiah and the Gospel of Luke – the Gospel writer who espouses the cause of the outcast.
Jeremiah is essentially a book of poetry written for the Jews who were in exile. The language is almost apocalyptic in nature. We have a dialogue between Jeremiah and God. Whoever actually wrote the book of Jeremiah, we see strongly emotive language, a sense of desolation, secondary to a breakdown in relationship and trust. The author presents himself as having a sense of the divine and the picture that is painted is reminiscent in many ways to that of a broken marriage with emotions extremely unstable and accusations hurled in every direction.
Jeremiah announces an attack from the North – an image taken to represent darkness. Some scholars consider the Babylonians were the attackers, others have suggested nomadic attackers from Southern Russia, however, there is no hint of date so the author is clearly suggesting a mythical enemy of great power. Imagine how some of the exiles Jews must have been feeling. They had lost their homeland, lost their citizenship status, most likely subsistence existences as slaves – second class citizens. Separated from family members perhaps, without any ability to influence their own present or future. It doesn’t take too much of a leap of faith to see how they might view this enemy as supernaturally sent by God as judgement. If you have any doubts as to this, consider how in the so called illuminated viewpoint of the 21st Century some of the facebook posts from the USA make demons out of whichever is the faction the post writer opposes.
Consider how this contrasts with Jesus’ take on judgement. Context, as they say, is everything. Jesus was facing opposition from every direction. His own family had tried to kidnap him earlier in Luke chapter 8, the storm then increased metaphorically in Chapter 8 with Jesus at the mercy of the elements on board the disciples’ boat. Illness, death, chaos; Jesus faces increasing opposition. In Chapter 12, he announces in a similar echo of Jeremiah that he has come to bring fire to the earth, he has come to bring division. Here, like, Jeremiah, Jesus is talking about consequences. He is bringing a message that will being change. Change is never welcome, at least among those experiencing it. The consequences of the message that Jesus brings to the social and political setting of the 1st Century means discomfort, likely discord, civil strife; opinions raised against one another. Jesus in his actions themselves created division in society. Healing the beaten, raising people from the dead; thus removing death from the ultimate control measure, upsetting the ruling family in Jerusalem. He increasingly was being followed by those whom society had deemed dirty and unclean. Jesus clearly showed contempt for the cleanliness laws that in his perception separated people from an experience of God and from being included in society. The Gospel writer refers to tax collectors, sinners. Today we might think of loan sharks, pimps and prostitutes. If Jesus were here in Welling today, how would we feel if we found our congregations being taken over in increasing numbers by the sort of people we would rather not spend time with?
I wonder how popular Jesus would be? Would he be fêted by the political elite, or would we find him wining and dining with what we might think to be the underbelly of society. So Jesus told the elite this parable.
I’ve said before that Jesus’ parables aren’t cosy stories, they are more like chocolate coated chilli peppers without the chocolate.
So Jesus searches for the lost sheep. He is the shepherd. The shepherd it is worth remembering is an outcast figure in 1st century Judea; they were people who just couldn’t be trusted. He insists on looking for and rescuing the one, instead on following logic that suggests the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. No one to Jesus is a lost cause. The woman with 10 silver coins and loses 1. She still has 9, but is obsessive it seems about finding the lost 1.
It is a topsy turvy attitude to life because 1at century life didn’t care about the poor, women or children. They were expendable, worthless. The elite of the time kept this attitude going and it is that attitude that Jesus is calling out. He is saying this is wrong. Everyone counts. Everyone’s life matters. Not just mine because I might be wearing a suit, but the person hopelessly addicted to heroin – their life is just as important. The old person with dementia, they are still valued for their humanity, the transgender, the gay couple, the people made invisible by disability.
If we think we can build a society where we are all nice and polite and white, Jesus is saying out loud that this society is fake!
The only way that type of society happens is when those considered as other get tramples, pushed out or persecuted. This world has experienced that in the 1930s in Germany and more recently in the Balkan conflict acutely witnessed at Srebrenica.
In Jeremiah’s time, society had turned away from God, or thought and felt that they were being punished for having done so.
In Jesus’ time, Jerusalem was being run by a core group of similar minded families for their own benefit.
Today, we are seeing the rise of separatist groups in all races and all areas of the world. This country stands divided on a precipice. History teaches us that extremism doesn’t end well. The scriptures here also teach us about consequences. Jesus warns us of consequences; of how we will attract opposition by speaking the truth, but also that true society can only be inclusive. A society with missing pieces is flawed. It is a fallacy to think we can “Go it alone”
So my challenge to you is simple. Look around you. Look your neighbours in the eye.
You might want to look for and embrace difference in your community. It sounds coy, but ask yourselves: What would Jesus do?
In Jesus name