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Evil and Partying (A Sermon)

January 24, 2010

Texts: Psalm 36 and John 2: 1-11

Sin speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts; there is no fear of God before their eyes. For they flatter themselves in their own eyes, that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated

According to the Psalmist God wants you to hate your sin… Not just feel bad about it and get used to the fact that nobody’s perfect. Hate it.

The problem of evil according to vs 4 of our Psalm, is the problem of people who do not ‘reject evil’. Are we too busy ‘thinking positively’ to reject evil. Today’s reading addresses the question of moral depth. Are we also, sometimes, a people who flatter ourselves in our own eyes, so that our iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The righteousness of God is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep. God’s concern is, according to the bible and to this psalm, to save us from a crisis of human identity and character, not to make us happy with how things are. Not to encourage us to do better, but to rescue us, to purge us from something that is destroying us and God’s creation.

We might say that our life is a great treasure to God. Our life and its shape and future matter immensely to God. Whether it be individually or corporately and socially, when our life has become distorted (the old word is ‘iniquity) God suffers, God is angry, God hates sin with a passion (quite literally).

The problem of evil is that we tend not to (hate sin, that is). The word is all but lost from our vocabulary. Human beings who live in the gentle marshlands of self-flattery can’t even see their crisis. In the language of the Psalm; “their iniquity cannot be found out and hated”

This week we have all been deeply disturbed by the crisis that has hit Haiti… a place of suffering and poverty. Human induced suffering and poverty has in the last few weeks been overtaken by natural evil (an earthquake), and the country is filled to overflowing with death and grief and pain. In some ways these things leave us speechless, but gradually we begin to speak again.

Peter Hallward in “The Guardian comments that:

The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked” by the so-called international community.

 

I don’t know how balanced Hallwards account of the background to the Haiti crisis is…, but when 75% of the population live on less than $2 per day and the population has been forced to shift into makeshift accommodation in cities to survive… this was a disaster waiting to happen. There were systematic patterns of evil, that all of us are part of that created the Haiti of today.

I couldn’t believe it when American fundamentalist preacher Pat Robertson decided to explain the Haiti disaster as the result of a “pact with the devil”.

What sort of a Christian response is that? When he could have responded with the comfort of the gospel he finds an urban legend to perpetuate his racist stereotypes. Some things are almost as disgusting as the earthquake itself. So I was delighted when the following letter was penned signed by Satam himself:

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I’m all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I’m no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.

Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth — glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake.

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there’d be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox — that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it — I’m just saying: Not how I roll.

You’re doing great work, Pat, and I don’t want to clip your wings — just, come on, you’re making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That’s working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

And sadly it seems that only when the world starts to crack around the edges (in an earthquake), that we begin to catch glimpses of the history of evil that we so cleverly hide away so that, in the words of our Psalm, it cannot be found out and hated.

But here are two sides to today’s Psalm.

‘How precious is your steadfast love O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

 

On the one hand we have a God who hates evil with a purity of hatred and wants us to do the same. And on the other hand we have a God who delights in creation and throws parties. Who is all about a pouring out of abundance.

Jesus goes to a wedding in Cana and the wine runs out. It’s a social crisis, and according to John’s gospel an occasion for a sign of what Jesus is all about. So Jesus calls for the water jars (20 or 30 gallons of water) in each of the 6 jars. These are the jars of ritual purity, they sort out issues of good and evil apparently. And when the stewards fill the jars to the brim Jesus turns the water into wine, quality wine. That adds up to about 900 bottles of wine. If the whole town of Cana (say 500 people) was at the wedding (perhaps unlikely) that would be 11 glasses of wine each… and that was when they had already drunken the cheap wine, and were thus, as our text suggests, already drunk. Which ever way you look at it, the first sign of Jesus ministry was a party with enough wine to get Dublin pickled….A sign of what Jesus was on about. A sign of what God is on about in Jesus life.

“All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast in the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.”

And God saw all that he had created and it was good.

Is there some kind of conflict here? Between learning to share in God’s hatred of sin and learning to share in God’s love of the goodness of creation. I’m inclined almost to leave it there for you to think about over the week.

But it seems to me that the Haiti crisis offers us some hints at why we might imagine there is a conflict between hatred of sin and delight in God’s abundant creation.

Because it seems to me that for Pat Robertson the symbol of God’s righteousness is the water jar of purity and he wants to keep away from all evil things for fear of God’s punishment.

Whereas for Jesus the sign of righteousness is to turn the waters of purity and separation into the wine of abundance to be shared at a party.

And if there is an evil exposed by the tragedy of Haiti, it is not the impurity of a pact with the devil… but perhaps, perhaps it is a failure that we all share in, a failure to celebrate the abundance of God’s creation by sharing it – a failure to give as God gives.

I am not saying that the evil God hates most of all is private property. But I am saying that all property is God’s property and part of God’s good creation. It is gift to be given. Just like the life of Jesus is a gift given and given again. In his life and death we see that God loves creation with a passion and hates evil with a passion. And those two things come together in the passion of the Christ

Psalm 36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

 

Bruce Hamill,

preached at St Margaret’s Green Island 24.1.10

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