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In Praise of Whinging (sermon)

February 23, 2013


Philippians 3:17-4:1                    Luke 13: 31-35


Apparently, in 2012 the world spent $1735 billion on war. Estimates are that it would take approximately 125 billion (not sure about how this is calculated) to totally eradicate poverty

Even if there is something vaguely correct here. Even if it’s only half correct this is challenging. What this is saying is that we spend 14 times as much in any given year on killing each other than what it would take to look after our neighbor’s survival.

What does that say to you?

I watched an interview this week with Chris Hedges. Hedges is a famous journalist who got thrown out of the New York Times for his opposition to the war in Iraq. And he’s just written a book called “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” in which he explores and documents what he calls the ‘sacrifice zones’. Places in the US most devastated environmentally and socially… places like Camden City, Imokolee Florida, and the Appalachians (where the whole environment has been mined to destruction by corporations who leave the people living in pollution), places where money has been able to control the legislation and there are really no impediments to the maximization of profits at the expense of human life. And Chris Hedges was asked ‘What ties all these places together?’ He thought for a minute and then he said,

‘Greed… greed over human life… A willingness to destroy our fellow human beings. We forgot our neighbour.”

He says it is part of the corporate value system, ‘Greed is good’. And we have become accomplices. It seeps down into general cultural values. He says ‘the cult of the self is accepted as a kind of natural law’.

In the gospel today the Pharisee appear to be helping Jesus out. They are more frightened of Herod and his desire to kill Jesus than Jesus is. Jesus is funny… it seems to me. He says. “Go tell that fox!…I am casting out demons and performing cures today tomorrow and the next day,” In other words, “Let me check my diary… you want to kill me, Mr Herod… mmm sorry I’m all tied up for at least three days. Sorry mate… good of you to offer but Prophets get killed at Jerusalem and that’s where I’m headed. I am a prophet for Israel. It is Israel who will kill me. Then his whole tone changes in the next section


Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets

and stones those who are sent to it!

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing!


In the words of Chris Hedges. Jerusalem is a ‘sacrificial zone’. And Jesus knows that he will be sacrificed to keep the system going. So Jesus engages in Lament.

Walter Brueggeman says that 1/3 of the Psalms (one third of Jesus’ hymn book) is made up of Psalms of Lament – like the one he quoted from the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me”. They are complaints and protests and cries for help. They bring to God the truth of their response to the pain of their life.

Paul, writing to Philippian Christians says

18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly

He tells them the truth with tears. His concern is not to remain positive and put a bright face on it all. The truth is the enemies of the cross of Christ are on a path to destruction. He joins with Jesus to lament.

I wonder how many songs we sing in church are songs of lament? I wonder how much we hide our tears when the community gathers.


Brueggeman says that in avoiding lament in our worship we are in danger of two things. (1) denial about problems (2) guilt – rather than ranting at God we turn in on ourselves and beat ourselves up about not fixing the world. Feeling powerless before the state of the world we gradually begin to eat ourselves up with guilt.

Chris Hedges was asked, ‘Why do you do it? Why do you keep writing? He replied:

“I look less on my ability to effect change and understand it more as a kind of moral responsibility to resist these forces, which I think, in theological terms, are forces of death… and fight to protect, to preserve life… we have to let it go. Faith is the belief that it goes somewhere…”


Later he commented:

“Faith is a belief that it does make a difference even if all of the empirical signs point otherwise.”

Great reporters, says Hedges “care about truth as opposed to news”. They will risk their job for it. The interviewer pushed him further “Can you accomplish more as a dissenter (outsider) than as a journalist?” Again he paused. “It’s not a question I ask. What you do you have to do (like denouncing the war on Iraq) its career suicide. You can’t serve the interests of the institution and do that…. Eventually you will clash with institutions you care about” (whether it be newspapers or church or whatever).

It seems to me that this is lament too. Telling the truth about the bad things in life. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets…” … “I tell you even with tears, their end is destruction, their god is their belly.” Lament it seems is about going public about the bad things.


On Friday I had my head full of these thoughts so I went for a walk to do some listening and let God have a word in the process. So as I walked up the hill and down Killiekrankie pass, the sun was shining on a perfect Dunedin day, and I was thinking ‘I how can I preach about lament’ when there is so much to thank God for on a day like today? Jesus, where are you in all of this? I prayed. And as I walked past the pensioner flats on Kew Park a voice called out to me. Hey Bruce. It was a guy I’ve got to know over the last few years who lives there. He’d just been 34 hours in A & E and nearly had his leg chopped off because of infection. He told me the story and then we got talking about the problems in the hospital system. He clearly was engaged with the bigger picture and he was talking about how in the end the problem is ‘greed’. He wasn’t irate. He was just telling it like it is. It’s not something you can do much about.  Sometimes we call this kind of thing ‘whinging’ . But in fact what he was basically saying the same thing as Chris Hedges. And when we use terms like ‘whinging’ we effectively deny people the space to lament. Even Chris Hedges realizes that he has little chance of changing these things… but he is committed to telling the truth anyway. Whinging… telling the truth about the hard things to your neighbour. Protesting… telling it with a crowd of others. Perhaps the point of both is to continue the long tradition of lament… Lament as non-violent resistance.

Jesus didn’t just whinge about ‘Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets’ he also protested. The first thing he did on arrival was go straight to the house of God, the temple, and overthrow the money changers. I’d been thinking about this too. And my friend in the flats mentioned precisely this example. It was like he somehow knew what I was going to be preaching on.

The thing about Jesus protest is he goes straight to the table with the doves, according to each of the gospel accounts. Why doves? The doves were the offerings especially set aside for the poor. They could not afford lambs. Jesus is concerned about economic exploitation. Richard Beck describes the outcome like this. Jesus engages in a protest action that

“shuts down the financial system of the city during the annual peak of its commercial activity, where he “would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts” during the Passover week. An action akin to shutting down the Wall Street trading floor or shopping during Black Friday.


In the end of course, it was the system that shuts Jesus down. At least that was what they thought they had achieved. Jesus wanted to gather his people, like a hen with chicks. On Good Friday they gathered to kill him. Like Chris Hedges he knows that there is something he must do and to all empirical signs he has been completely ineffective. Jerusalem has done its usual thing. Jesus rather than taking up the sword, lets them do their thing. Your house (read temple in particular) has been left to you.

And yet the story does not end there. God takes that lament, God takes that truth telling and makes a victory of it… an eternal victory. Paul says,

“He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”


The power that enables him to subject all things to himself, is of course, precisely the power that enabled him to subject himself to the world, to Jerusalem. In a nutshell. Love wins. We can lament because love will win.

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