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I have a confession to make.
I’m a real fan of thrillers and action movies.
Just about every one of them, from Lethal Weapon to Arnold Schwarzenegger rock and sock ems.
I like them all even the cheesiest of plots….no problem.
Gillian and I even binge watched the Die-Hard series this past year…and no folks, Die Hard is not a Christmas movie! (*** additional note by Gillian…aka Webmaster, wife and actual Die Hard fan in the family: Die Hard is a Christmas movie … so there*** let’s see if Father Rick notices I added this…let me know if you see it 😉 )
I think my most favourite is the James Bond films.
I’ve watched them all over the years through many actors playing Bond; Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and, of course, the current James Bond; Daniel Craig.
If you’re a fan too here’s a bit of news; the new Bond film is beginning production early in the new year for release in October of 2019 and Daniel Craig is slated, at the moment, to be Bond, perhaps his last appearance as the suave, licensed to kill super spy!
The plot of James Bond films and this genre of thriller is pretty familiar, it never varies much.
The actors may change, the locations may change, but you can always guarantee what you will get in a James Bond film.
There will be unique villains, outlandish plots, voluptuous women who fall in love with Bond, who also happens, to conveniently fall in love with them at first sight.
Well he falls in love with them until the next Bond girl comes along anyway.
There are gadgets from Q, death-defying stunts, outlandish behaviour and stunning locations.
The climax is always the same – Bond saves the world from apocalyptic madmen.
Somewhere along the line they try to kill Bond with a death trap during which the villain reveals vital information, usually on the premise that he thinks Bond is going to die anyway so now’s the time to gloat and reveal all.
Bond escapes and uses his superior intelligence to thwart the evil plot.
Bond then often kills his opponent, or they die by someone else’s hand.
Bond always saves the world; but he always saves it by using violence.
And this kind of plot is not unique to James Bond films.
It’s one of our favourite themes in entertainment isn’t it?
The idea that we can be saved by a super hero who overcomes evil and terror by force; that we can be saved by some grand act of violence.
There is a good person and a bad person…representing the forces of good and evil.
It’s very black and white.
Initially the bad person gains the upper hand and seems to be winning but always, by an act of violence, the good person comes out on top and the world is safe again.
Whew! We can all sleep easier knowing that our hero has saved the day.
The premise is that a final, violent act can save the world.
It is of course a myth, but it is believed not only in films but across our society.
Violence is part of modern society, it’s almost the spirituality of the modern world, it’s almost a religion.
After 911, Tony Blair and George Bush thought inflicting violence on Iraq and Afghanistan would save the world from oblivion through terrorism.
Racists, and members of far right parties are happy to bring violence against people of other ethnic origins because, they think that somehow, without those nasty folks who aren’t like us, things will be better.
It’s why Hitler was able to unleash violence against Jews and others
And why lots of people went along with his final solution.
The idea that takes hold is that things will better if this or that person, group, race, or nation are removed, and by golly if they don’t go quietly we have the use of force and violence to make it happen.
It’s nothing new.
The idea of salvation by violence infects all cultures and all societies and all religions; it always has.
This idea of “salvation by violence” offers a way of thinking about the end times which brings us to the gospel reading for today.
It’s called apocalyptic literature.
It is the belief that society is going to be transformed and after this all will be well, better than now.
The present is corrupt, wrong, evil and unjust and must be destroyed by a powerful force that will bring in a new era.
The narrative is that this way of violence is the only way that things will change.
To this way of thinking only a dramatic, violent change will make the world a better place and that change will be brought about, or survived, by the devout and dedicated, the true believers.
Mark 13 is one of the most difficult chapters in the New Testament for us to understand because it is so full of Jewish imagery, history and ideas.
The Jews never doubted that they were the chosen people, that one day they would occupy the place in the world the chosen people deserved.
God would intervene in a time of terror and trouble when the world would be shaken to its foundations and a new world created.
That idea and that belief is still held by many today.
In the gospel reading today Jesus says ‘ Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say ‘I am he’ and they will lead many astray’.
Jesus told those who were closest to him to pay no attention to those people who come claiming to be the Messiah, claiming to be some sort of saviour.
By telling his disciples this Jesus was trying to get across that his own coming would not be like this at all. Jesus was not going to be coming like 007 or Rambo.
We would like a Messiah to come when things are in crisis, when the signs of the times make us worried about the future, when the world seems under threat from acts of terror, from natural disaster.
And when we look around the world today we see so many places, so many things that make us alarmed for the future – from wars and conflict and violence, to poverty, natural disasters of earthquake, changing weather patterns.
Many people see in the events of the present day signs that we are coming to the end.
Many people have of course predicted that the end of the world was coming and they seem to always get it incredibly wrong.
But notice what Jesus says in the passage in Mark’s gospel.
He doesn’t say that these troubles are the end.
What he says is this ‘when you hear wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come’.
Jesus says that we are not to be alarmed by the wars and battles, and violence and conflict, the earthquakes and floods.
That is not God’s way of saving the world.
God doesn’t deal in salvation by violence.
We should not be tempted into thinking that violent events are acts of God.
That’s wrong thinking and, quite frankly, bad theology.
The Old testament can be a very difficult book to read and at face value gives a strange image of God as someone who sends plagues, who brings trouble, who has people slain, who sends wars and conflicts.
But dig a bit and you soon realize that it wasn’t in fact God who sent them.
It was the people at the time looking for a reason for these things and the blame, the excuse, the reason was that God sent it.
There are people right now in the United States who claim to be conservative Christians who believe that the current occupant of the White House has been sent by God to save the United States.
People who usually are pretty stuck on the ten commandments now back a serial adulterer, liar and racist
It’s kind of mind boggling to me but they justify it all by saying that God uses some bad people to get good things done…..strange to me…but there you have it.
I think its just bad theology.
Acts of evil, injustice and terrorism are not God’s judgement, they were not sent by God because of any reason whatsoever because God does not bring salvation through violence.
The invasion of Iraq and execution of Saddam Hussein was not God’s way of bringing about justice and peace for ordinary Iraqi people.
AIDS is not the judgement of God on the morality of this world, despite some people claiming it is.
Earthquakes and floods are not sent by God because of something that people have done.
All these things are the way of the world in which we live, not the way of God.
Jesus knew that these kinds of things would happen because they always have.
Jesus knew that there were always going to be wars and conflicts and natural disasters.
He knew that nation would rise up against nation.
It’s simply the way of the world.
But Jesus said also that this is not the end.
He said the end is still to come.
And whatever faced the disciples, Jesus wanted them to journey with love, not violence.
God is love and Jesus didn’t want his disciples to have anything to do with salvation by violence.
What Jesus wants for all his followers is for us to learn to believe in another kingdom, a kingdom very different from the kingdoms that are founded upon violence.
James Bond is a great hero.
The books and films are entertaining.
But they are based on a flawed myth.
The great questions of today – terrorism, violence, asylum seekers tend to get answered by people who work for a violent answer – lock them up, attack their countries, build a wall, send them away.
And those attitudes are based on the same myth as that of the James Bond stories.
As Christians we know that salvation by violence is not the way.
As Christians we don’t believe in rapid and dramatic solutions to the problems of the world.
We bring good news about God, that his kingdom will come, but it will come slowly and almost unnoticed.
In tiny acts of love, in living simple faithful lives where we encourage one another in our faith and in love and in care and in good deeds.
Through these things the kingdom will come, slowly, almost silently.
As we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus amid the workings of this world, listen for his small voice in the clamour of life, and work for his glory in the world.
And pray continually as he taught us…” thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”