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Sermon - 7 September 2008
Bible Verses: Matthew 18:15-20 & Romans 13:8-14
(click the verses above to read the passages online)

Claiming God is on our side - Dangerous and Unwise

Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 13:8-14

On September 11 seven years ago nineteen Al-Qaeda terrorists destroyed the North Tower of the World Trade Centre.

The fallout has affected everyone. Even as we catch a flight to Wellington we have to throw away that drink bottle and walk through security. We have adapted to the security measures almost seamlessly and without complaint as we prefer to fly in the knowledge that it will have the best chance of arriving at its destination.
Daniel B. Clendenin in "The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself" points out that although the terrorist attacks were an American tragedy. The 110-story World Trade Center epitomized America's economic might. Also; citizens from 90 countries died that day. Although he first denied any responsibility, on October 30, 2004, Osama bin Laden took responsibility for directing the attacks.

It has deeply divided Muslin and Christian. Even in our neighbourhood there is a suspicion between the groups, especially those from the middle east.
The Iraq war is of course, one of the central debates of the upcoming elections in the USA and I shuddered as the new Republican candidate for the vice presidency, Sarah Palin, was reported in the NZ herald as having said to a group of students at a US church that the US sent troops to fight in Iraq "on a task that is from God". She was only expressing the views of TV evangelists , but it is much more serious when politicians start thinking they are there to prop God up or have God as a member of their party. Whatever the reasons for any conflict we never need to buy into the agenda of the attackers.
Giving religious justification for the response to the terrorism only plays into the twisted view of humanity and indeed confirmed for Osama and others that the Christian faith is territorial, God is for the West and America. What does this do for our mission as Christians when the Christian faith is no longer seen as the forgiving, loving community, but as the ones with God on their side? Missionary work has seldom been successful if it only wears the garments of the invading culture.
When a war becomes a fight to show whose God is greater, its roots are too deep because for reconciliation both need to give up their Gods. And whether it’s the right wing American God, Allah as produced by Al queda or the Maori God of War we have to reject them.
Clendenin says that human nature, politics, history, economics, religion, and culture give us enough reasons for conflict - we don't need to add religious justifications for so much hatred in our world. Osama Bin Laden, Al-Queda - if it does indeed exist as a distinct organisation- and the Taliban hate the Christian West more than they hate death itself, enough to slaughter their own Muslim brothers and sisters.

Some Christians bought into that fight and appealed to God's providential intervention to explain the Al-Qaeda attacks. Jerry Falwell infamously construed the 9/11 attacks as divine punishment. He claimed that the wickedness of pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, the ACLU, and People for the American Way were one reason God had punished America. “I point the finger in their face,” said Falwell, “and say, ‘you helped this happen.’” Pat Robertson, a guest on the show, nodded in agreement, saying, “well, I totally concur.” In Falwell's view, America's policies weren't wrong because they're politically thoughtless and dominating. Rather, they're morally wrong as a matter of principle because they violate God's standards.

What role, if any, did God play in the 9/11 attacks? Angering Muslim extremists with a bad foreign policy is bad enough. Angering God himself would be calamitous.

The Hebrew Scriptures unambiguously affirm that Yahweh intervenes not only in the lives of individuals but in the affairs of nations, and that he sometimes judges nations with "disaster upon disaster" (Jeremiah 4:12, 15, 20; Exodus 32:14). Falwell is right that God judges nations, but quite wrong in the confidence and clarity with which he assigned blame.

Look at the zeal in Psalm 149. The first half of the Psalm describes dancing, singing, music, and praise of God. But the instruments of worship like tambourine and harp give way in the second half of the psalm to weapons of war like swords and shackles:

May the praise of God be in their mouths
and a double-edged sword in their hands,
to inflict vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters,
their nobles with shackles of iron,
to carry out the sentence written against them.
This is the glory of all his saints (Psalm 149:6–9).
New Oxford Annotated Study Bible (1991) has a rather weak footnote to Psalm 149: "The dance was evidently of war-like character." Yes, it certainly was. For the Psalmist it was a very short step from pious praise to religious rage. He glorifies the religiously righteous who brandish the Scriptures in one hand and a sword in the other.

Every nation is a mix of both good and evil. A nation's ordinary citizens very often hold opinions far removed from the megalomania of its political leaders. Claims of divine providence and divine judgment are at a minimum empirically unverifiable, if not also naive, irresponsible, and dangerous.

Jesus warned us against linking human tragedy and divine judgment (Luke 13:1–5). Isaiah reminds us that the ways of an infinite God transcend the minds of finite humans (Isaiah 55:8).

Even some of the closest followers of Jesus showed hatred. When an outsider tried to heal a person, John boasted with misplaced pride, "Master, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us" (Luke 9:49). Toward the end of his life Jesus set out for Jerusalem. When he passed through a village of the despised Samaritans and they refused even basic hospitality to him, James and John spewed their venom: "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?" (Luke 9:54).

Somewhere deep within the human psyche there seems to reside a dark and primitive impulse toward hatred, exclusion, and deadly violence. Perhaps to justify ourselves, or to calm our deep insecurity, we insist that God not only sanctions our hatreds and our causes, whether personal or national, but that He himself hates our enemies and at some points in history even exterminates them. But when God hates all the same people that you hate, you can be confident that you have created Him in your own petty and paltry image.
So, thank God for Paul's text for this week, in which he borrows a passage from the Hebrew Old Testament to instruct the earliest followers of Jesus: "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Romans 9:9 = Leviticus 19:18). The only debt we should carry, he says, is the never-ending debt to "love your fellow human being." Loving your neighbour fulfills any and every other divine command, for genuine love "does no harm to its neighbour."

We shouldn't wish divine judgment on anyone or any nation; we should wish them God's shalom. And by the grace of God, the church goes right across all divides, everywhere in the world in USA and Iraq and Iran, In China, in southeast Asia, God works not as a political movement but through those who dare place culture second and love one another in the way and power of the Risen Jesus.

Ref Daniel B. Clendenin in "The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself" quoted extensively.

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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