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Showing posts from March, 2017

Hezekiah and Lazarus

Isaiah 38.1-5, 9-20, John 11.1-45
King Hezekiah experienced something that all of us want to avoid. He got very sick. Worse than that, he was close to death. We normally think of Jeremiah as the bearer of bad news, but here it’s Isaiah who was sent to tell him that ‘the Lord says you won’t ever get well. You are going to die.’ Isaiah advised him to put his affairs in order. Hezekiah had been quite a good king. The Bible says that ‘he obeyed the Lord, just as his ancestor David had done.’ With some exaggeration, it goes on to claim that ‘no other king of Judah was like Hezekiah, either before or after him,’ and that ‘he was successful in everything he did.’ This is because he closed all the ancient hill shrines, which had sometimes been associated with pagan worship or with sacrifices offered by people who weren’t ordained as priests. Instead people had to worship God in Jerusalem. The Old Testament doesn’t expect good people to have an untimely death, so that begs the question, ‘Where h…

The ideal way of governing

Isaiah 32.1-8, 15-10 Our ideal way of governing is democracy. But that’s not Isaiah’s ideal. For him good governance is not about who governs but about how they do it. Mob rule can be just as tyrannical as despotic rule. We forget too easily that democracy has limited value unless it goes hand in hand with the love of justice. A just society is a place of refuge in a cruel world whereas an unjust society is harsh and unforgiving even when it has democratic elections, and for how long will it be truly democratic anyway? In a just society the citizens would make an effort to see things from other people’s point of view. They would open their eyes to see what is really going on. They would pay attention to what other people are saying. In a just society people would take time to think before they said anything. They wouldn’t rush to judgement because rushed judgements often turn out to be profoundly unjust. In a just society voters would recognise foolish plans for what they are. They would h…

Covering our ears

Isaiah 30.1-11, 18 The membership of the Methodist Church has declined over the last 12 years from around 300,000 to about 190,000. This decline comes against the background of a similar decline in other Churches and in Christian allegiance in general. People have wondered why. Perhaps we haven’t worked hard enough. Perhaps we haven’t been listening for God’s guidance. Perhaps we have lacked faith. Isaiah offers another explanation. We have been listening, but we didn’t want to hear what God has been saying to us. We were like my little brother who, when he didn’t want to hear something, would cover his ears and try to drown out the sound. ‘Don’t tell us the truth,’ we have thought to ourselves. ‘Just say what we want to hear, even if it’s false. We don’t want to hear any more’ about the more challenging way we ought to be going. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. The truth can be difficult and uncompromising. It can be hard to swallow. It can be much easier to take comfort in old ce…

Kindness to Strangers

Isaiah 16.3-5 At the height of the EU Referendum campaign some of the Leavers unveiled a poster showing a long line of Syrian refugees snaking towards the borders of the European Union. The subtext was that, if we stayed in the Union, these people might arrive on our shores, taking our homes and jobs, our school places and hospital beds.  Even some Leavers were shocked at the implicit rejection of an ‘open-hearted humanitarian response to appalling distress,’ the response someone has said we should be expected to make when a country like Syria is torn apart by warfare. This was the situation which faced the people of Judah at the time of Isaiah. There had been deep enmity between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel and their Moabite neighbours. King Omri of Israel - someone the Bible doesn’t like very much, actually - oppressed Moab during his reign so, in revenge King Mesha of Moab attacked Israel after the death of Omri’s son Ahab, and dragged away the sacred vessels from God’s shrine an…

Hannah Arendt & the Temptation of Christ

Isaiah 5.18-21; Matthew 4.1-11
The political philosopher Hannah Arendt was the subject of a radio programme recently and her ideas sounded very relevant. She wanted to understand what had given rise to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany or Communist Russia. The Nazi Party in particular had come to power through democratic elections and during the 1930s the Nazis continued to hold  a series of plebiscites or referendums in which they asked people to endorse what they were doing. They took these very seriously and campaigned hard to win people’s support. In all of them they got more than 90% of the vote, and they only stopped holding them once they realised that popular support was ebbing away. No one was allowed to contest these elections and put an opposing point of view, but it’s striking nonetheless how many people gave their unthinking support. At the Nuremberg Trials, the most important surviving Nazi leader - Hermann Goering - based his defence on this mandate from the people. …