Adam Curtis is a BBC documentary maker
whose films seek to explain and explore our world.
His most recent is a BBC iplayer only film called Hypernormalisation. [i]
Curtis begins with the claim:
We live in a strange time.
Extraordinary events keep happening
that undermine the stability of our world.
Suicide bombs, waves of refugees, Donald Trump,
Vladamir Putin, even Brexit …
and no-one has any vision for a different, or a better kind of future.
He goes on to say
‘We’ve constructed a simpler, but fake world into which we’ve all bought …’
and where ultimately ‘nothing ever changes.’
This has allowed dark and destructive forces to fester and grow outside.
Forces that are now returning to pierce the fragile surface
of our carefully constructed fake world.
It is a bleak analysis.
I said to a friend this week who recently had a baby,
What kind of world are we bringing our children into?
To which she replied, ‘utterly terrifying.’
And another Baptist minister friend was asking this week
'What in heaven's name are we to do with what the Hell is going on around us?' [ii]
Now this might be overstating things,
But it is certainly true that 2017 is going be a different world
than we began in 2016.
Someone told me this week if you had place a bet on Brexit, Trump for
presidency and Leicester winning the Premier League, you’d be a multi-millionaire!
These strange times lack perhaps much to be cheerful about …
(thank God for Ed Balls on Strictly!)
And this is Remembrance Sunday
in which we remember equally non-cheerful times
in which millions died, or more accurately millions were killed.
The church after 1918 and 1945 was left searching for something to say.
For the wars in Europe saw Christian kill Christian.
We bear the scars of these wars today,
There is a worry that we might be re-opening them.
Adam Curtis I think is right in that we have not been offered a vision for a
different, a better future.
The visions at the beginning of the 20th century failed,
resulting in two world wars.
The visions of Clinton and Blair and their ‘third way’ failed,
The vision of Bush to defeat terrorism with military might has failed.
The hope of Obama is about to be overturned, and ultimately his hope
has not reached and transformed the lives of many in middle America
and so one reason why the result this week is what is it.
But there is a vision,
A way of seeing, a way of living,
That offers hope, and peace, and life.
It is called the kingdom of God.
The prophets announce it:
‘See I will create a new heavens and a new earth’ (Isa. 65.12)
‘The days are coming when I will make a new covenant’ (Jer. 31.31)
‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! … I will put breath in you …’ (Ezek. 37.4, 6)
‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people …’ (Joel 2.28)
‘They will beat swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.’ (Micah 5.3)
Moses teaches it:
Consecrate the fiftieth year
and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you. (Lev. 25.10)
The Psalmist sings it:
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
And gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoner free,
The Lord gives sight to the blind,
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow (Ps 146)
and Mary joins in:
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
But has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
But has sent the rich away empty (Lk 1.52-53)
Jesus proclaims it and embodies it:
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are who hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are those who are persecuted (Matt. 5.3-11)
The church in Acts practice it:
All the believers were together
And had everything in common.
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone in need.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
Praising God (Acts 2.44-47)
Paul preaches it:
‘There is no longer Jew or Greek,
Slave or free,
Male and female
You are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3.28)
John of Patmos sees it:
‘there before me was a great multitude that no one could count
from every nation,
tribe, people, language,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’ (Rev. 7.9)
I saw a new heaven and a new earth …
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem,
Coming down from heaven from God …
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev 21.1-2, 4)
That’s a vision,
a re-describing of reality
a learning to speak Christian,
a ‘believing that a coming future of God will prevail
over the deathliness of the present.’ [iii]
In the kingdom of God
There is a refusal to see those that are ‘other’ as threats,
but as human beings
There is a refusal of economics that only serves our interest,
but practices generosity
There is a refusal of war as a means of making peace and reconciliation
There is a refusal of environmental self-indulgence,
but practices humility and compassion
There is a refusal of nationalism either seeking to isolate or dominate,
but instead builds bridges and opens doors
There is a refusal of adult arrogance and power,
but an embrace of the child
The purpose of the Bible
is to impress upon his readers a different view of the world,
a world in which there is a Creator
a world in which there is evil
a world in which Christ has come
and at the cross terminates one world
and in the resurrection raises a new world.
The purpose of the Bible
to refurbish the Christian imagination with
alternative heavenly and divine visions of how the world is and will be.
The purpose of the Bible
is to reveal Jesus as Lord.
who is the First and Last,
who is the Living One,
who is the faithful witness,
who is the Lamb who was slain,
who is coming soon.
The book of Revelation says
that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of Jesus,
and so while kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers of this world
will rule for some years,
Jesus will reign for ever and ever.
Jesus is our future,
the author and perfecter of our faith.
Where do we go from here?
We pray for the gift of discernment –
To see the possibility of death where others find progress or success
To see the reality of resurrection and hope where others
are consigned to despair [iv]
Alongside that, we immerse ourselves in the Bible:
‘In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word.
Amidst babel, speak the truth.
Confront the noise and nonsense and falsehood of death
with the truth and power and efficacy of the Word of God.
Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word,
defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word.’ [v]
It is in the Word
that we will come to see the world in new ways
and so see the crucified and risen Jesus at work in the world
and so attend to his way.
Where do we start in the Bible?
The Beatitudes is a good place.
In these nine blessings we find a vision for life,
We find what it looks like to be Christian: [vi]
It is dwelling with
those who are poor, those who are mourning, those who are meek
It is allowing God to change you into
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
those who practice mercy
and those who are pure in heart
It is living the life of
those who are peacemakers
and those who love God even in the face of death.
In these strange times,
Where everything seems to falling apart
Where today we remember those who fought in wars
because no alternative could be found
We say there is a vision,
A vision for life
And it is found in Jesus
Let us continue to be captivated by it,
Continue to trust in it,
And continue to live it
For the love of God
With the grace of Jesus
And in the power of the Holy Spirit
[ii] Jim Gordon, ‘Thinking of Advent, Worrying About the News, Recovering Faith in the Good News’: http://livingwittily.typepad.com/my_weblog/2016/11/thinking-of-advent-worrying-about-the-news-recovering-faith-in-the-good-news.html
[iii] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Vision that Trumps Violence’ in The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann Vol. 2 (WJK, 2015).
[iv] William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land quoted in Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers (WJK, 2002).
[v] Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians, quoted in Campbell, The Word Before the Powers.
[vi] I borrow this from Sam Wells, ‘Dwelling in the Comma’ in Learning to Dream Again (Canterbury, 2013).