Sermon for Williamstown
13th of November, 2016
Today I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and talk about party politics from the pulpit. I talk about politics all the time: about the treatment of asylum seekers; and about the way the poor and dispossessed are often ignored by the rich and entitled; and about the need for Christians to oppose all forms of racism and discrimination because every single human being is a beloved child of God. I don’t think there’s any doubt that talking about those sorts of issues is appropriate for the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. But what I have never done before is talked about a particular politician. That’s the line I’m crossing today. Today I’m going to talk about the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.
I’m feeling nervous about this, but it doesn’t really take much courage. After all, this is Australia and as close as we are to the USA, and as interested as we were in the result, this wasn’t our election. And by speaking against Mr Trump I am simply jumping on a well-populated band-wagon. In an article written before the election Richard Cooke wrote:
… the Republican candidate has not been endorsed by a single major newspaper. He has in fact been disendorsed by more than 160 leaders of his own party, including a third of its sitting senators. The GOP speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, refuses to campaign with him in person. Even two items of confectionary – Skittles and Tic Tacs – have made public statements distancing themselves from the nominee.
Here in Australia the Prime Minister called his language ‘loathsome’; the Leader of the Opposition called him ‘barking mad’; and the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, called him a ‘dropkick’. I’m simply agreeing with them.
During his campaign Mr Trump said that he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and get Mexico to pay for it, because the Mexicans who are coming to the States are bringing drugs, crime, and are rapists. He said that he would round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. He said that he would reintroduce the torture of terrorism suspects; promising ‘I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding’. He claimed that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. He said that he would suspend immigration from Syria and Libya because the refugees fleeing those countries might be ‘Trojan horse’ terrorists.
Then there is the recording from 2005 in which Mr Trump boasted about the way in which he is able to treat women because he’s rich. I’m not going to repeat that here. But listening to it my understanding is that Mr Trump was boasting of committing sexual assault.
Add all that up and you will understand why I’m shocked that Mr Trump was elected President. In the same way, I was puzzled by the Brexit vote in the UK earlier this year. The suggestion is that in both countries people who have been left behind and ignored economically voted in the hope that something, anything, would change. Things have gone deeply wrong in both countries. The example that made that most clear to me was one that John Hewson shared in an article in yesterday’s Saturday Paper: that in 2005 the top 25 hedge fund managers in the United States made more money than the country’s 150,000 kindergarten teachers and paid less tax on it. In the face of that I can understand people demanding change and looking for anything that isn’t ‘politics as usual’. It’s also possible that people voted for him without taking all the racist and Islamophobic things he said seriously.
But a horrible rise of religious, racial and homophobic hate crimes has been documented in the wake of both Brexit and Mr Trump’s election. At least some people are seeing in these results an endorsement of their hatred of other people.
Honestly, I expected more from both the United Kingdom and the United States. I don’t think I’m alone in that.
How can we respond to this week’s election? In the first place, we can’t congratulate ourselves that Australians aren’t like Americans or the British, and that if a Brexit vote or presidential election were held here the result would be different. I’m pretty sure that the only reason no Australian politician has suggested building a wall around Australia is simply because we are girt by sea. Pauline Hanson’s response to Mr Trump’s election was: ‘I can see in Donald Trump a lot of me and what I stand for in Australia. I think it’s great,’ and her One Nation party won four senate seats in the 2016 election.
In the second place, we do what Jews and Christians have always done in the face of hatred and bigotry. We turn to God. CNN political commentator Van Jones, a black American lawyer, said as the results came in: ‘It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids, “Don’t be a bully.” You tell your kids, “Don’t be a bigot.” You tell your kids, “Do your homework and be prepared.” Then you have this outcome, and you have people putting children to bed tonight and they’re afraid of breakfast.’ He asked: ‘Where’s the grace going to come from?’ and his answer was that it was going to have to come from ordinary people. But the grace the world needs also and always comes first and foremost from God.
Today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures comes from a time when many of the people of Israel who had been in exile in Babylon were finally able to return to Jerusalem. They had hoped that after the exile their lives would be perfect. Instead they returned to a life of difficulty and continuing despair. In the passage we hear today Third Isaiah offers them hope in the disappointment of their return, the hope of a new creation.
In the Hebrew Scriptures it is only in the writings of Third Isaiah that we find the description ‘new heavens and a new earth’. They are to be created by God, the only Creator. Third Isaiah looks back to Genesis, echoing the story told there about the hope for creation and the dashing of those hopes, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. And bit by bit Third Isaiah tells of the hope that the new creation will overcome all the evils caused by that violation of the first creation.
The separation from God caused by Adam and Eve’s sin will be overcome in the new creation: ‘Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.’ While God had cursed Adam and told him that feeding himself and his family would become hard work, only to be done by the sweat of his brow, now: ‘They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit … my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.’ God had said to Eve: ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children,’ but now women are told that: ‘They shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord — and their descendants as well.’ With the exception of the poor serpent, still condemned to eat dust, everything that went wrong at the first creation will be restored when God creates the new heavens and the new earth for which all creation longs.
The hope that Third Isaiah offers the exiles who have returned is of a new world of justice and peace: ‘No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.’
Part of my despair with this week’s election was caused by my belief that a new world of justice and peace can exist here and now. But just as the exiles who returned from Babylon discovered that simply returning to Jerusalem would not make everything perfect, so I need to remember that God’s kingdom will not fully come until the eschaton, the end-time. We are living in the in-between time, between Jesus’ resurrection and his coming again. None of us can bring about the full coming of the ‘new heavens and a new earth’. Like our ancestors in the faith, we live in anticipation of it. And, after all, the history of the people of Israel is a history of God being with them in slavery and exile. The founding event of Christianity is the judicial murder of Jesus. We shouldn’t ever be surprised by the darkness of the world.
And yet we still pray that God’s kingdom may come and God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. We do this because in the words of prophets like Isaiah we are reminded of the way that God intends the world to be. As people who seek to follow the way of Christ, we’re called to respond to the way the world is now with prayer and action. We’re called to preserve justice and to do what is right, confident that salvation will come and creation will be delivered. In our hope and faith that God will not leave the world as it is, that crucifixion is followed by resurrection, we’re able to light candles in the present darkness, knowing that the darkness will not overcome them, and that there will be light. ‘The people who walked in deep darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.’
There are times when darkness and hatred seem to be all-conquering. But we can be sure that in God’s measure of things, joy and delight and love will prevail. Suffering and death are real. But until we reach that day when, the Lord tells us, ‘they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,’ we must respond to darkness and hatred by loving all others in imitation of the God who loves us all. This includes loving those who hate. Van Jones was right that it is up to ordinary people, people just like us, to show grace and empathy. We can do that because we are supported by the love and grace of God. God’s new world of justice and peace in which the sound of weeping or the cry of distress will no longer be heard will come. Until it comes our job is to live out that justice and peace until God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
 Richard Cooke, ‘Bonfire of the Narratives,’ The Monthly, November 2016.