It is as if [Jesus] were saying ‘Yes, you did this to me, as you do it to each other, and here I am undergoing this, occupying the space of it happening, but I’m doing so without being embittered or resentful. In fact, I was keen to occupy this space so as to try to get across to you that I am not only utterly alive, but that I am utterly loving. There is nothing you can do, no amount of evil that you can do to each other, that will be able to stop my loving you, nothing you can do to separate yourselves from me. The moment you perceive me, just here, on the cross, occupying this space for you and detoxifying it, the moment you perceive that, then you know that I am determined to show you that I love you, and am in your midst as your forgiving victim. This is how I prove my love to you: by taking you at your very lowest and worst point and saying “Yes, you do this to me, but I’m not concerned about that, let’s see whether we can’t learn a new way of being together.”’ — James Alison, Jesus the Forgiving Victim
A week ago, we spoke about the hope of a new heavens and a new earth, even while creation groans in unprecedented and catastrophic bushfires. We spoke of the need to have hope in the new creation that God has brought into being in Jesus the risen crucified One, and that God is giving birth to even now.
So last Monday, it was a bit of a jolt for me to see what another preacher had been saying last Sunday about those same bushfires.
Israel Folau, former rugby player for Australia and now media celebrity preacher, told his church that the bushfires and droughts we are seeing now have come straight from the hand of God:
You think it’s a coincidence or not? God is speaking to you guys, Australia, you need to repent.
What you see right now in the world is only a little taste of God’s judgment that’s coming, it’s not even a big thing.
And what is God saying, according to Israel Folau? That we should repent of laws on marriage equality, laws legalising abortion. That we should repeal those laws and go back to how things were.
Mr Folau says God caused the bushfires because of our sin. And if we don’t repent, there will be much, much more.
The god that Israel Folau preaches sends judgement in a haphazard way. People died in the bushfires. More lost everything. Some of them might actually agree with Mr Folau about a number of things. But they get caught up in it anyway.
The god that Israel Folau preaches lacks basic discernment and compassion.
What about the God that Jesus embodied? Does this God send thunderbolts to start bushfires? Our Gospel Reading gives us a hand to discover just who the God who came to us in Jesus really is.