Mary: Icon of Christian Anarchists

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From this story in the Washington Post, – https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/mary-mother-of-jesus-returns-as-an-icon-for-pop-stars-and-social-justice-warriors/2021/07/26/439e234c-ee64-11eb-81b2-9b7061a582d8_story.html

Ben Wildflower is a mail carrier by day and artist in his off hours. In 2017, he made a woodcut that showed Mary, her fist raised over her head, feet resting on a skull and a serpent (the former is a motif usually associated with Jesus’ disciple Mary Magdalene, while the latter is in keeping with historical representations of Mary, Jesus’ mother, triumphing over original sin). In a circle around Wildflower’s image are the words “Fill the hungry. Cast down the mighty. Lift the lowly. Send the rich away.” When he posted it on Instagram, it went viral.

Some critics called the woodcut’s message “un-Christian,” protesting that “God loves everyone.” The taunting language, however, was pulled directly from the Magnificat, the gospel writer Luke’s version of a song attributed to Mary, that from earliest Christian times was seen as so revolutionary public readings of it have been banned in the past.

Wildflower, the child of evangelical Christian missionaries, now attends an Anglican church, is committed to living in solidarity with the poor and has been described as a “Christian anarchist.” He finds himself deeply drawn to the mother of Jesus and said he likes Mary’s vision of hierarchies being turned upside down.

For more art from Ben Wildflower visit https://benwildflower.com/

Lent Movie Sessions 2021

In Lent 2021 I hosted a series of six Lenten movies for the community at Wesley House, Cambridge. I selected the following films, all of which are in the Public Domain and therefore free for anyone to watch and broadcast. They are mostly classics of world cinema and aimed at providing spiritual nourishment during Lent.
 

21 February 2021 – Intolerance (1916)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intolerance_(film)This masterpiece of the silent era covers four historical instances of inhumanity – including the treatment of Jesus.

 

28 February 2021 – Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunrise:_A_Song_of_Two_Humans
A tale of reconciliation, once ranked as the fifth best film ever.


 

7 March 2021 – The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passion_of_Joan_of_ArcOur third Lenten movie was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent classic “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928), a ground-breaking film based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc. You can watch it online here:


 

14 March 2021 – Angel and the Badman (1947)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_and_the_Badman
Our fourth Lenten movie was the atypical Western “Angel and the Badman” (1947; dir. J.E.Grant) starring John Wayne as an injured gunman who is nursed back to health by a Quaker, forcing a decision on whether to follow the way of violence or nonviolence.You can watch it free here:

 

21 March 2021 – Bicycle Thieves (1948)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_Thieves The fifth Lenten movie was the Italian classic “Bicycle Thieves” (1948; dir Vittorio De Sica). It was voted the best film of all time in 1952 and the sixth greatest ever made in 2002.

 

28 March 2021 – The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1966)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gospel_According_to_St._Matthew_(film)
The final film was “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” (1964; dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini). The best movie about Jesus ever – or so said the Vatican newspaper. Roger Ebert wrote about his film that “Pasolini’s is one of the most effective films on a religious theme I have ever seen, perhaps because it was made by a nonbeliever who did not preach, glorify, underline, sentimentalize or romanticize his famous story, but tried his best to simply record it.” – https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-gospel-according-to-st-matthew-1964 You can watch here:

Parihaka Sources and Resources

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5 November is the anniversary of the invasion of the Maori settlement of Parihaka, Taranaki in 1881.

I regularly teach a course called “Violence and Nonviolence in the Christian Tradition” at Pacific Theological College. In this course I include a session on “Nonviolent Resistance” looking in detail at what happened at Parihaka and how that can inspire Christian nonviolent resistance against injustice as well as reconciliation. For those interested to learn more here is are some entry-level links followed by lists of videos worth watching and my class reading list:

Watching

Reading

  • Bergin, Helen. 2010. “Edward Schillebeeckx and the Suffering Human Being.” International Journal of Public Theology 4 (4):466–482.
  • Buchanan, Rachel. 2011. “Why Gandhi Doesn’t Belong at Wellington Railway Station.” Journal of Social History 44 (4):1077–1093.
  • Elsmore, Bronwyn. [1985] 2000. Like Them That Dream: The Maori and the Old Testament. Auckland: Reed Books.
  • Elsmore, Bronwyn. 1999. Mana from Heaven: A Century of Maori Prophets in New Zealand. Auckland: Reed Books.
  • Gadd, Bernard. 1966. “The Teachings of Te Whiti O Rongomai, 1831-1907.” The Journal of the Polynesian Society 75 (4):445–457.
  • Guy, Laurie. 2011. Shaping Godzone: Public Issues and Church Voices in New Zealand 1840-2000. Wellington: Victoria University Press.
  • Hohaia, Te Miringa, Gregory O’Brien and Lara Strongman, eds. 2001. Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance. Wellington: City Gallery Wellington; Victoria University Press.
  • Keenan, Danny. ‘Te Whiti-o-Rongomai III, Erueti’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 2, 1993, and updated online in November, 2012. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2t34/te-whiti-o-rongomai-iii-erueti (accessed 25 August 2017).
  • Keenan, Danny. 2015. Te Whiti O Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka. Wellington: Huia.
  • Mamak, Alexander, Ahmed Ali with Richard Bedford. 1979. Race Class and Rebellion in the South Pacific. Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1979.
  • Mitcalfe, Barry. 1963. Nine New Zealanders. Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs.
  • Parihaka and The Parihaka Pa Pakainga Trust and The Crown. 2017 “Parihaka Te Kawenata o Rongo, Deed of Reconciliation” https://justice.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Publications/2017-06-09-Parihaka-Te-Kawanata-o-Rongo-Deed-of-Reconciliation.pdf
  • Riseborough, Hazel. 2002. Days of Darkness: Taranaki, 1878-1884. Auckland: Penguin.
  • Scott, Dick. 1975. Ask That Mountain: The Story of Parihaka. Auckland: Heinemann/​Southern Cross.
  • Smith, Ailsa. ‘Tohu Kakahi’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 2, 1993. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2t44/tohu-kakahi (accessed 25 August 2017)
  • Waitangi Tribunal. 1996. The Taranaki Report: Kaupapa Tuatahi Wellington: Legislation Direct. ONLINE: https://forms.justice.govt.nz/search/Documents/WT/wt_DOC_68453721/Taranaki%201996.compressed.pdf (accessed 25 August 2017)
  • Warne, Kennedy. “Why Wasn’t I Told.” New Zealand Geographic ONLINE: https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/parihaka

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments if you’d add anything to this list. Thanks.

Unlimited competition is wrong

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Reginald John Campbell on free market business competition from the sermon “Christianity and the Social Order” from City Temple Sermons (1903):

Unlimited competition is wrong. There is a place for competition, but after a certain point has been reached competition becomes tyranny. If there is any man here who is mainly responsible for the future of a small business house he will know what I mean, if I use him as illustration. You go to the promoter of a big concern that is about to crush you, and say, “I cannot hold out against you. What am I to do?” “You must make over your business to me on such and such terms.” ” But that means ruin to me!” “Can’t help it; it’s all fair; you’re competing with me, and the better will win.” Does it not seem a hollow mockery? The better does not win; the stronger does. In fact, the community will be more likely to lose if the big house wins than if the little one does. You are having to pay more today for certain commodities just because of the victory of the big concern over the little one, and yet under unlimited competition the big concern is sure to win the victory all the time. Where is the remedy? That is for you to say, member of Parliament ; it is for you to say, leader of County Council, municipal organiser; that is what you are there for, not for your own interests. But if Jesus Christ stood, and he really does, where I stand this morning, He would say to you, as He said in the days of old, under other conditions, in other terms, but with the same meaning and the same principle. Unlimited competition is wrong; you have no business to crush the weak as if he had no rights against the strong.

SOURCE: https://archive.org/stream/citytemplesermon00camp#page/102/mode/2up

Reflection in PTC Chapel on Acts 8:26-40 (23 April 2018)

Reading – Acts 8:26-40 (NRSV)

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.


Reflection

This is an extraordinary and magical story. Saint Philip the Evangelist, as he has come to be known, is whisked into the scene like a spiritual superhero, coming to baptize an exotic Ethiopian, and just as quickly as he appeared, he is gone to complete another mission.

But as fantastic as the scene is, there is much food for thought here about the nature of God, the church, its sacraments, and its mission. But the interest is not only to do with doctrine but also our relationship to the Spirit of God.

That Philip follows the initial call to him to arise and go, shows his willingness to listen to the Spirit and to act on its promptings. There is no debate or questioning – just an apparent simple obedience and willingness to do as the Spirit asks.

When Philip heads into a wilderness area we might recall to mind Isaiah 40:3:

“A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

This story not only fulfills the prophecies of Isaiah regarding geographical data, but in doing shows that Isaiah is a reliable source of prophecy regarding the events of the Jesus and the early church. And, as we shall see, the relationship to Isaiah is throughout this passage and cannot be accidental.

It is no accident, then, that the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading from Isaiah as he trundles along in this chariot (an amazing feat of resistance to motion sickness).

Philip was invited abroad the chariot, probably because he knew what he was talking about. His study of scripture and theology had prepared him well for this mission. He was able to share his knowledge of the Gospel, making the necessary connections between the Hebrew Scripture and the Gospel of Jesus. His learning, as ours should be, was guided by this mission. Our teaching and learning here at PTC should have this end in mind, the ability to share the Gospel and to be the guide that the world needs to the truth.

The Eunuch responds to the Gospel message with a desire to be baptized. He asks:

“What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

They both get into the water and the Eunuch is baptized by Philip.

To the Eunuch’s question, there is no recorded answer from Philip. We might speculate about Philip’s response. His answer could only have taken one of two forms.

The first would have been: “There is no reason to prevent you from baptized – let’s do it now!” That would make sense as that is what appears to have happened. Such a simple response causes practical and theological problems for the churches’ practice of baptism (which is why verse 37 may have been inserted into the Western text)

That is why we must consider the other sort of answer. This alternative could have been – “Um, you cannot be baptized because ….”

Churches have several reasons why people cannot be baptized – including that the person has not completed catechism class, or that they have not made a confession of faith (which excludes infants).

When Philip baptized the Eunuch he created a new church member, and perhaps a new church. Philip did not stick around to make sure the Eunuch was educated in church policies and baptism regulations, and so on. He did not tell the Eunuch what time worship should be on a Sunday or whether women could be ordained or not.

The Eunuch went away rejoicing unencumbered by rules and regulations for this church. For him it appears having the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit was enough.

Regardless of what message he took home, he does leave us the legacy of his question to Philip: “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” This question shows that the Eunuch already had that freedom in his heart that only the Holy Spirit gives. The question itself shows a soul so ready for the spirit and the Spirit’s freedom it cannot entertain any obstacle to baptism and acceptance of the Spirit of freedom.

We must take this question to heart in our churches in our time.

What is to stop the Holy Spirit moving in our churches? When Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit he did not indicate in detail what this Spirit would do. The early church was not disappointed. From Pentecost to the other events such as this, the Holy Spirit was busy making new disciples and converting people and uniting them into the church.

What have we done with the Holy Spirit? Have we let it move freely animating the church, or have we tried to restrict the spirit.

What is to prevent….? Asking this question in a church or even a faculty meeting can be awkward. There are any  number of rules, regulations, policies, canons, decrees, cultural practices, and Bible verses that can be used to prevent you from doing any new and creative thing. Sadly today the Spirit is being kept out of the church. Nowadays churches would have a very quick answers to the Eunuch – he cannot be baptized because our rules disallow it. He cannot preach or teach or be a leader  and so on and so on…

This passage is also a powerful message of inclusion for the church. Even today it has the power to upset things.

Consider who this man was. Was he even a man? A eunuch is not a complete man. In ancient times a eunuch might have been useful in the Harem or Official role, but they were  often looked down upon. Lucian of Samosata wrote of eunuchs that they were “monstrous” and “alien to human nature”. Eunuchs were not considered whole men – and called names (much like homosexuals have been vilified in our own time).

Biblical law (such as Deuteronomy 23) barred eunuchs from worship in the assembly and Leviticus denies them from being priests (Lev 21:17-21). I am not concerned here with the possible contradiction in our text that the Eunuch in fact could not worship in the temple, as Luke describes in verse 27. What concerns me is that he could now find a complete home in the church despite his own incompleteness.

Once again that the Eunuch is reading Isaiah is significant here. For in this prophecy there is a place for the Eunuch and foreigner’s in the house of God.

Isaiah 56:3-5:

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”

4 For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,

5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

Such radical inclusion shows that we must be careful of proof-texting in order to exclude people from the love of God.

Does this text mean that Hebrew practice had changed and become more liberal, or that a more inclusive community of God was being promised. Either one is good news for the Eunuch.

In the end Philip was snatched away to Azotus. This is reminiscent of the prophets of Elijah (1 Kings 18:12) and Elisha (2 Kings 2:16), who had reputations of being whisked away by the Spirit. Hence this dramatic exit is not simply a narrative trick of moving a character from one place to another, but provides further reasons why Christianity is both continuous with Judaism and goes beyond it.

Philip’s mission in this passage is about following the movement of the Spirit; as the church’s mission should be today.

The Eunuch was then without Philip, but was left with the Holy Spirit in his baptism.

This Spirit of God, as promised by Jesus which animated them both, remains with us and can be an agent of freedom today, if only we have an open heart and mind.

Amen

Luther on the Scientific and Theological Understanding of the Rainbow

Here is Martin Luther making a point about the difference between the philosophical (read ‘scientific’) and theological understandings of the rainbow from Genesis 9:13:

This sign [the rainbow] should remind us to give thanks to God. For as often as the rainbow appears, it preaches to the entire world with a loud voice about the wrath which once moved God to destroy the whole world. It also gives comfort, that we may have the conviction that God is kindly inclined toward us again and will never again make use of so horrible a punishment. Thus it teaches the fear of God and faith at the same time, the greatest virtues. Philosophy has no knowledge of these and carries on a discussion solely about the material and the formal cause; it does not know the final cause of this beautiful creature. But theology points it out. (Luther’s Works, Volume 2: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 6–14, page 148.

On causes, here Luther refers to Aristotle’s four causes, three of which are mentioned here:

  • material cause
  • formal cause
  • final cause

(for more detail on those, you may refer to “Aristotle on Causality” at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In brief, Luther is making the argument that the speculations of the scientists about the rainbow’s shape, colours, appearance, and its relationship to clouds, ignore the purpose of the rainbow in God’s design. Science is limited in the questions it can answer about purposes or final causes. It is very good at answering questions of how, but not questions of why. Theology deals with final causes better than science does.

In a modern day application of Luther’s point, we might consider how this applies to phenomena related to climate change. For instance, scientists can tell how a cyclone develops, moves, and operates, but not why it appears when and where it does. Luther would say that this happens according to the will of God – not a popular notion in our science-focused era.

That Christianity and Anarchism Should Be Friends

From Socialism and the Ethics of Jesus by Henry C. Vedder, 1914

SOURCE: http://www.archive.org/stream/socialismethicso00vedd#page/174/mode/1up

By its hostility to Christianity, Anarchy has rejected the only ally that promises the least encouragement to the practical working of its social theories. For, if the time ever comes when men can live here on earth in a society in which law shall be unknown and force unnecessary, it will be because the principles of Jesus Christ have become so implanted in human hearts that all men love their neighbors as themselves. Where that law prevails, it is true that no other law will be needed, and there will no longer be a social problem, because no man will look on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

John Wesley’s Rules for Stewards

Here are John Wesley’s rules for church stewards. Which do you think are still relevant today?

(From The Journal of John Wesley, Volume 3, pp. 300-301. June 1747. Source: https://archive.org/stream/a613690403wesluoft#page/300/mode/2up)

Thursday 4 June 1747: I reduced the sixteen stewards to seven, to whom were given the following instructions:

  1. You are to be men full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, that you may do all things in a manner acceptable to God.
  2. You are to be present every Tuesday and Thursday morning, in order to transact the temporal affairs of the society.
  3. You are to begin and end every meeting with earnest prayer unto God for a blessing on all your undertakings.
  4. You are to produce your accounts the first Tuesday in every month, that they may be transcribed into the ledger.
  5. You are to take it in turn, month by month, to be chairman. The chairman is to see that all the rules be punctually observed, and immediately to check him who breaks any of them.
  6. You are to do nothing without the consent of the minister, either actually had or reasonably presumed.
  7. You are to consider, whenever you meet, ‘God is here.’ Therefore be deeply serious; utter no trifling word; speak as in His presence, and to the glory of His great name.
  8. When anything is debated, let one at once stand up and speak, the rest giving attention. And let him speak just loud enough to be heard, in love and in the spirit of meekness.
  9. You are continually to pray and endeavour that a holy harmony of soul may in all things subsist among you; that in every step you may ‘keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace.’
  10. In all debates you are to watch over your spirits, avoiding, as fire, all clamour and contention, being ‘swift to hear, slow to speak’; in honour every man preferring another before himself.
  11. If you cannot relieve, do not grieve, the poor. Give them soft words, if nothing else; abstain from either sour looks or harsh words. Let them be glad to come, even though they should go empty away. Put yourself in the place of every poor man, and deal with him as you would God should deal with you.

These instructions we whose names are under-written (being the present stewards of the society at London) do heartily receive, and earnestly desire to conform to. In witness whereof we have set our hands.

N.B. If any Steward shall break any of the preceding rules, after having been thrice admonished by the chairman (whereof notice is to be immediately given the minister), he is no longer steward.

Sermon at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Suva, Fiji (13 November 2016)

Readings for Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:

  • Isaiah 65:17-25
  • Isaiah 12
  • Malachi 4:1-2a
  • Psalm 98
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
  • Luke 21:5-19

 

In two weeks time we begin the Christian season of Advent. This season is when Christians prepare for the arrival of their savior Jesus Christ. We eagerly look forward to Christmas as a time of celebration and gift giving. And the end of another year will be greeted by many as relief from the tumult of 2016.

But if you are like me, you are already breathing a sigh of relief for those things which have been completed recently, like the end of the academic year. Finally, students and teachers can catch up with friends and housework, and some of us will be looking forward to returning to families and friends in our home islands. Congratulations to all graduates and those who just completed their exams.

So in Advent, we await the arrival of our Lord and Savior who will come to deliver us and set us free. But in the meantime, we must finish our exams, make travel plans, and do all those day-to-day things which keep life moving forward for ourselves, our families, and the others who depend on us in the workplace and home. This is not simply how we live our daily lives, but also how live our Christian faith – working and struggling day-by-day, but also with keen anticipation of the Kingdom of God to come.

In the last week, Americans have already experienced the end of a season like Advent, the period of waiting to see who their new President would be. For some, the election of the Republican Party candidate Donald Trump was a catastrophe, while for others it delivers something like a savior figure.

This election has dominated the news for months. With President Obama being ineligible for re-election, both the Democratic and Republican Parties had to find candidates to contest this election.

Trump’s election as the Republican nominee and then election to the presidency has shocked the world. Many people are asking: “Is the best person American can find to run their country?” Prophets of doom see this as the end of the world, or the end of the United States as we know it.

For our region, it is not yet known what Trump’s presidency will bring. His international relations policy is not well thought out or known, but it is starting to be revealed. But two things seem likely:

  • Trump has said that climate change is a hoax by the Chinese. This cannot be taken too literally – it is surely an example of nasty election rhetoric designed to be anti-Chinese, while appealing to uneducated climate deniers for votes. Nonetheless, his approach to climate change is not encouraging. And the Pacific region, being very vulnerable to the effects of more intense cyclones and sea-level rise, needs to be very concerned.
  • Secondly, Trump is anti-globalization. He is against free-trade and movement of jobs to other countries. This might mean that Pacific countries find it harder to sell their goods to America. This might hurt the Pacific’s export industries. However, if this move by Trump curtails global trade, then it might have a small positive result for climate change.

But my task this morning is not to offer political analysis, but to examine our scripture readings to see what light the light of God can shed on our new global political situation.

Our scripture readings this morning are timely reminders of both catastrophes Christians can expect to live through and God’s peaceable Kingdom.

Beginning with our reading from Isaiah 65, we have a radical vision of peace and harmony; one which continues to offer hope in troubled times.

Isaiah says:

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered.”

In this new earth we find the famous image of the wolf and the lamb feeding together. That is Isaiah’s vision of God’s new rule of the world.

From Donald Trump’s rhetoric we might find a distortion of this. Trump might say:

“For I am about to create a new America; the former things of Obama shall not be remembered”.

Isaiah goes on to say, in a vision of economic sovereignty:

“They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat”.

But Trump would say:

“Americans shall build houses and inhabit them (not immigrants); they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit (not import grapes from Mexico)”

I admit that this is a somewhat playful approach to reading scripture and applying it to today’s political situation. But sadly today, much of our political language is a distortion of our theological language and Christian truths. This is a trap for Christians, as what sounds like biblical Christian teaching can be subtly distorted for political ends.

In Isaiah’s vision, it is God alone who establishes peace and harmony. It is not the construction of any human ruler, but it is God’s new creation by God’s own initiative. It cannot be achieved by any Presidential election or governmental decree. God’s new creation is from God alone. We must not confuse it with anything worldly politics can achieve.

The Psalm set for today – Psalm 98 – also celebrates God’s rule. Looking at God’s divine rule, which we can glimpse through the Psalms and others parts of the Bible, has inspired Christian rulers across the ages for their own rule.

Psalm 98 speaks of the universality of God’s rule –  God rules over all the earth. God’s rule transcends national boundaries and is not limited to one people, nation, or region. The God of Israel is the God of the whole earth. This God rules all, and will come to judge all.

Again, we can contrast God’s rule with the earthly ruler, who by necessity and design, rules just for the interests of their nation, and sometimes only in the interests of certain classes or races. The worst rulers rule predominantly in their own interest.

God’s judgment, the model for sound political judgment, is equitable and righteous. This is God’s justice, which will be fully revealed when God comes to rule. This is our expectation and our hope. In the times before that final judgment, we can hope that our leaders take note and judge in the way they would like to be judged by God. Sadly many, if not most, of our rulers, even Christian ones, fall well short of this ideal.

This vision of final judgment at the end of times may seem far off in the future. But for those in the Pacific facing the impact of climate change and the destruction of our fisheries and forests, it can appear that the end times are drawing close.

Christ paints a picture of the end times – with times of conflict, war, and persecution – in our reading from Luke this morning. Luke’s vision of persecution is a reminder of God’s care for us and a further reminder of the differences between earthly rule and God’s rule.

In the face of conflict with authorities, who violently persecute them, Christians are not to defend themselves using violence. Or even prepare elaborate spoken defenses. Their only defense is the word that comes from God. Against the kings and governors and their prisons, we have the word of God. That word, with its power to create and destroy, is more powerful than death. Jesus reassures us that in any battle with political power, we may die, but we will not perish.

Our identity as Christians and followers of Christ does not permit violence against those who make an enemy of us, but ultimate victory over them is assured.

Some would say that an alternative politics of identity can be seen in the recent developments in the United Kingdom with its vote to leave the European Union and in the election of Trump.

This is seen in the slogans “England for the English”, and “America for the Americans”, and in Australia in the resurgence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. These events are united by an identity politics of exclusion of the outsider, whereby race and ethnicity and language groups seek to claim some status that defines who is in and who is out.

This is the politics of nativism – an ideology which favors the local people or natives over those who are outside. For some, this is a necessary correction, in which locals or indigenous people can reassert their power against globalization or even imperialism. But in other ways, these categories are reinforced and entrench divisions between people, that some people are worth more than others.

In the wake of the Brexit vote and Trump’s election, the UK and the USA have seen violence against minority groups in these countries escalate. Brexit and Trump’s rise to power have given implicit permission for hate to rise in the hearts of men and women. The haters have been emboldened by leaders who wish to throw out the constraints of human decency and compassion and appeal to the lowest base urges of human behavior.

In the Pacific, we might think ourselves isolated from these sorts of events. But we need to be vigilant that the politics of hate and exclusion do not take root in our countries. For almost 30 years Fiji has witnessed harmful identity politics of race and exclusion.

With perceived threats to the Pacific way of life from globalization or neo-colonization and environmental harm, it becomes easy to focus blame for political corruption and economic exploitation on outsiders and their perverse cultures. It would be tempting to find one’s identity in opposition to the forces of modernity globalization in nationalism and a retreat into one’s culture.

But, the feeling that our lives would be better without the outsider and that we don’t need them is a sinful temptation. Christianity teaches the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. We need the other in order to show love. Without someone to love we cannot uphold Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor. It is easy to return love to those who love us. But as Jesus says there is no merit in that. Christ-like love loves the neighbor and even our enemies. We do not have love unless we can do that.

Christ himself associated himself with the tax collector and collaborators with Roman occupying powers. In doing so, he transformed them and his identity was itself transformed at times by encountering the outsider.

Our trust in God’s word and Jesus’ command is the basis of our identity as Christians. Our identity as Christians, Christ warns his listeners, comes from his name, as it says in Luke 21:17. This identity can put us into conflict with religious authorities, political authorities and even our cultures, as represented by our “relatives and friends” (21:16).

Our Christian identity is one we should be proud to have and one that makes other identities secondary. We have our identity in Christ.

Part of the Christian identity relates to fear. Two of our readings this morning tell us not to be afraid. Isaiah 12:2 reminds us that surely God is our salvation. We will trust in God, and will not be afraid. And in Luke’s gospel (21:9), Christ tells us not to be terrified of wars and insurrections, because they will pass and soon afterwards, Christ will return.

It is difficult not to be afraid for those things we hold dear in times of trouble. People’s lives are at risk from the forces unleashed by Trump’s election and Brexit. They are afraid and justifiably so. What word does the church have for them? When people’s lives are in danger, pious platitudes will not do. We need to speak and act in ways that show our hatred of evil and our love of others.

Christ’s words from Luke are reassuring, when he indicates that this time will pass. But the question for us is: “How shall Christians pass this time?” Shall we pass it behind locked doors and gated compounds? Shall we pass it in isolation from minority groups who are suffering the outpouring of hate, such as Muslims, homosexuals, and immigrants?

No We shall pass that time alongside them as neighbors and friends. Christians cannot sit aside and allow hate to win. Christians must be prepared to be among the hated, rather than among the haters.

Therein lies our imitation of Christ in these troubled times when politicians wish to build walls to exclude and shame others in need. That is the identity we are given through our baptism into the church of Jesus Christ, and one that we share with Christians of all colors and nations.

Amen.