Fire and brimstone, 1822 and 2015

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All this is in one day’s New York Times:

A sermon preached in a Congregational church in Dudley, Massachusetts, in 1822 began with these words: “The corruption of mankind is very great.”

This opening gambit would not be tolerated today. We enlightened ones of the 21st century preach about corruption and sin not at all. The mainline churches of today (the very ones that are closing hand over fist all over New England) preach human potential, inclusiveness, radical hospitality, incarnation in an unblemished creation, the triumph of the human spirit, and various related messages designed to make us feel good about ourselves and the world.

On the front page–just this one page–of the same issue of the Times, July 30, 2014, we have this:

1) Over the past decade, European countries have been secretly paying ransoms of multi-millions of dollars to free hostages kidnapped by Al Qaeda. In other words, the West is bankrolling the terrorist organization. “Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least 125 million since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year” to ransom Europeans taken hostage.

2) The former governor of my home state of Virginia (formerly known for probity in government), Bob McDonnell, and his wife Maureen, are on trial for conspiring to use his office for personal enrichment. The defense will argue that their marriage had broken down so badly that they did not even communicate, let alone conspire.

3) Steven A. Cohen, one of the most powerful of all hedge fund managers, entered a guilty plea to insider trading charges, which involved a $1.2 billion penalty paid to the US government. He has changed the name of his company from SAC to Point72 and as of this date has made nearly that much in the past six months. He and his family rented a yacht for a vacation in the Greek isles, attended an international art exhibition in Switzerland in June, and last weekend, with his wife, was a guest at a charity gala in the Hamptons at the home of Jerry Seinfeld.

4) The large front-page photo of the day showed mourners at a funeral for an Israeli soldier. They are cowering on the ground by a wall, seeking shelter from yet another rocket fired from the Gaza Strip. The caption notes also that on the same day (yesterday) an Israeli strike hit Gaza’s only power plant, thereby cutting out most electricity in the territory.

5) The latest round of sanctions against Russia is creating alarm among ordinary Russians who are beginning to fear with good reason that Russia’s relations with the West will be affected for years to come, speaking of a “fundamental shift,” “a long-term standoff,” a “long-term problem” — yet Putin remains as inscrutable and unreachable as ever, and is “hugely popular.”

Shouldn’t we take seriously the situation we are in, all around the world, and reconsider the church’s message? The New Testament in its various voices proclaims Jesus Christ as the victor over evil, sin, and death–but how can we make that real in the church’s preaching and teaching unless we are willing to look the Enemy in the face? and recognize how easily Sin takes root in us all?

” ‘They proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me,’ says the Lord.”  ( Jeremiah 9:3)    

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