So Jesus also goes into Jerusalem as into the storm. Starting this coming week we watch him enter this narrow defile which becomes darker until there seems no way out. On the third day we see him crash through and emerge out of the other side, and riding on through all his creation, imperturbable victor. The Lord takes us with him through it all, so though this is always a victory procession, for us, in this present, this victory takes the form of this very public confrontation.
For at this moment, for our sake, and for own people’s sake we are heading right into this most almighty confrontation with all those frightened and arrogant disordered powers and institutions that have grabbed what is not theirs to control. We have to take their battering. The extent of the opposition coming our way in this country in the coming years will show just how long we have been neglecting own people. We have not told them what they need to hear; we have not even told one another.
A strong healthy community of any sort, whether a business or a nation, has to hear the truth about itself, repent and abandon whatever policies are not working, and start again. Repenting, praying, thanksgiving: Sorry, Please, Thank you – these three instruments are required to keep any community together. Everything needs regular maintenance. An inspection brings malfunctions to light. Everything needs the caustic of truth, won through the discipline of good self-judgment. But our nation has avoided for this for so long, that it and we are now thrashing around to avoid the one thing we most urgently need. We were born within a vast covenant of civilisation and of civility, utterly precarious, but also fragile, and now despised and vulnerable. Seventy, maybe even fifty, years ago just enough of the virtues that support that civility was passed on through family and public culture. Now no longer.
The Lord Jesus is God and man in one figure. When we worship him, we are standing before the open door of the throne room of the Lord. He waits for us through there, or since we are the ones who are constrained by our limits, it would be better to say that he waits for us out there. He calls us out of this stiflingly small place and into the vaster place of his immediate presence. And so we marvel at the Lord and so we worship him. That is what the angels are showing us, and why the disciples stand here open-mouthed, moving from bafflement to amazement, singing Holy, holy, holy… This tomb turns out to be the throne of God, where all his company stands around the Lord, for where the Lord is, there his people are gathered around him. It the gateway which opens for us so that we can go in to that company and his presence. Our future is through there, with them and him, for we were made for undying communion with God, and with one another, in God’s glorious company. Easter morning 2010 He must rise from the dead
Jesus Christ is our king. That means that we have a good king, one who can do the job, actually the only one who can do the job. This king is there to protect us from the incursions and demands of those who want to exercise power without authority and who may be able to start doing us good but cannot keep it up. A king is simply a political leader. All leaders get their political authority from God, and God is the control and limit on them all. The world is full of undeclared chiefs, who want to make themselves our kings, without admitting as much, without allowing their power to become explicit or becoming accountable to us through the normal political channels. We Christians are here to remind all leaders that God commands them to act well for the people they have authority for, and that they will have to give an account of themselves, and will stand before that judge. All our political representatives are ‘kings’, ‘chiefs’: we don’t call them that, but that is how the bible regards them. Part of our job is to tell people and institutions who have effective power that with it they have authority to use it well, for the nation as a whole.
So now what about our own political classes? How are they doing? They exercise a form of kingly authority for us. Our government, from the smallest council employee to the prime minster, is the hand of God for us. We have to encourage them to govern, and tell them that they have a good and honourable task. We have to invite them to judge for themselves whether they are doing a good job. Each of them may and must carry out their office. They may do their job, at whatever point, high or low, in their particular institutional hierarchy, in the knowledge that they do it for us, for our good. This is their share in the kingly office of representative rule. They govern for the common good and so we encourage them to do this well, and we give them our thanks. We can remind them that we are here, and are watching, and that they will present their work to God, the only fair judge and true king. Christ the King St George the Martyr 22 November 2009
From the Kingsland High Road yesterday we walked down Stoke Newington Church Street singing All Glory, Laud and Honour to Thee Redeemer King, and Ride on Ride on in Majesty. In the afternoon we met again at St John’s Hackney and sang our way around the south of borough, We are marching in the light of God and God’s got an army marching through the land.. in this march I’ve got a part, stopping to pray at spots where young people have died in the last year. Lord, teach us how to pray.
Christ has laboured on our behalf: he is the provider of mankind’s only free lunch. We may provide for one another as we receive and distribute what he has provided for us. God has acted generously to us, and invites and enables us to be generous and active on one another’s behalf. From him we may receive the abilities by which we can act and trade on our own account, for we are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works’, as the Letter to the Ephesians puts it. We may discover that labour can be its own reward, for we may take pride in those whom we have served and lift and present them to God in thankfulness, and then we will no longer be alienated from the product of our labour. God is the one who is able to tell the true worth of our labour and our lives.
But others came after Smith who were convinced that the entire existing tradition of deliberation about what is good, of Plato and Aristotle, and Augustine and Aquinas and their heirs, had become hopelessly tangled. They decided to give up on it, and cut moral language loose from all previous discussion of what is good or true. This new generation of political philosophers were the Utilitarians, best known of whom is Jeremy Bentham. The utilitarians wanted us to give up talking about right or wrong, or good or bad, even in the sense of ‘good for some purpose’, as when we say ‘this will not look good to other people’. Any good is good to the extent that enough people want to raise its price to the point at which its present owner is prepared to sell it. They have encouraged us to think only in terms of good as this is established by the satisfaction of the person who employs enough money to outbid all others and so claim it. It is the price mechanism that decides on the value of a thing, so the utility or usefulness of a thing is decided by the price that reflects the preferences of all agents in the market. Within this Utilitarian account, all our acts are seen as ‘preferences’, that is, as private.
And ends like this:
When the entertainment industries have opened up the family by driving a torrent of new desires through it. If they cannot resist, family members cease to sacrifice individual desires for family cohesion and are not able to work for one another or welcome one another’s service. As the family starts to break up, the state is there to provide for each of the individual pieces that have been created. We no longer need of one another because the state follows the private sector in to provide each ‘need’ so that it never becomes articulated as the need of one person for another. The result is not that each single parent is that each single parent is married to the state. The state has become the universal mediator, driven to smooth out all inequalities and with them all the complementarities, by which we need one another. The state cannot love. But it may exhaust our national economic resources in compensating for the love that we no longer give.
Behind this economic crisis is another crisis, one of morale. Have we become the society that each of us individually ceased to believe in? Because we have assumed that we insulate the economy from all other factors, in particular these factors that I have linked to covenant, to confidence and so ultimately to will of this society to continue, and to create another generation, we have not made the connection between economy and morale, and so we been taken by surprise by this financial crisis.
and ends like this:
The Church asks whether we are selling ourselves here, in this ‘temple’ that we have built. Are we being sacrificed here? Are we being sold here, amongst the money-changers? The cross of Christ tests all these temples of our own construction. They may not survive this testing. If it has become a temple in which we are not built up but sold and sacrificed, they will fall. We have to ask whether we have become enthralled and trapped in building a temple of our construction which has enfeebled our society and which its own contradictions is finally beginning to bring down. Can Christ cleanse the temple for us? Shall we pray that he does?
To explain why we are facing this flood and these crises we have to think through covenant, love and gift. We will examine them not because these are religious ideas, but because they are fundamental economic ideas. When we attempt to understand economics without them, we achieve incoherence. Economics has indeed tried to understand human interaction and exchange without the concepts of covenant, love and gift, and the result has been the bankruptcy of economics and a crisis that is both social and economic.
This year’s Lent talks follow the Lectionary readings for the five Sundays of Lent. They will examine our social, political and economic crises and relate them all to a crisis of morale that follows from our uncertainty about the covenant of God. The first talk starts like this:
What the Church says it not only says in Lent and Easter, but in every Church service. Easter simply spells out in large format what is going on every Sunday morning, when on behalf of the whole world the Christian community confesses its sins and receive forgiveness, and so remains a confident people. The Church that is confident of the resurrection is uniquely able to talk about pain and cost, because it is formed by the promise of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.
It continues like this:
We are undergoing a severe economic crisis. What is causing this crisis? Greed is of course some part of the answer but the problem is not only that we have demanded too much, but that we have not demanded enough. We do not value ourselves enough, and all our materialistic impatience and over-reaching is nothing but compensation for this crisis of morale, a failure to value ourselves. We belittle and devalue ourselves in the fear that if we don’t others will denigrate us more. But we denigrate ourselves in defiance of God. God is the true judge of man, and God finds man good and loves him. That is the news of the gospel.
and ends like this:
It is good that creation has limits. It is good that we explore and discover these limits. To burn our way through creation is absolutely impoverishing for us. It gives us no opportunity for moral growth. It does not teach us to husband these resources or to wonder at this creation and care for it. It is only because it is a finite world that we have to learn how to act within it. It is only when we exercise self-restraint that we can act generously and for other people. And it is only the opportunity of acting well and generously, that there is the joy which is the whole point and purpose of creation.
Reliance on the government as consumer of last resort has resulted in a structure that favored global production over national income, the FIRE economy (âfinance, insurance, and real estateâ?) over the real economy (real production of goods), low wages over fair ones, and gargantuan size over human scale. It is this last point that is particularly troubling, since this gargantuan institutions have proclaimed themselves to be âtoo big to fail,â? and exercise economic blackmail over the whole republic. The problem with this claim is that it is correct. But the proper response is not to give into the blackmail, not to negotiate with crooks, but to make sure that the blackmailers are never in a position to control the whole economy, to demand trillions in ransom whenever they get themselves (and us) into trouble. Now, it would be mere carping by distributists to point out the problems if we could not offer solutions. But we do have solutions, and it is time to offer them, time to end the era of big business that depends on big government, on subsidies from the general public to private profits. I have nothing against profitsâwhen they are earned; I have everything against profits that are the result of subsidies and privileges. The distributist solution to all of these problems can be summed-up in a few words: Buy it up! Break it up! Fund it right!