Romans 1: 16 I’m proud of the good news! It is God’s powerful way of saving all people who have faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 17 The good news tells how God accepts everyone who has faith, but only those who have faith. It is just as the Scriptures say, “The people God accepts because of their faith will live.”
I’ve just finished binge watching a show on Netflix called “Midnight Mass”. Now before you all go and watch it, I need to warn you all; this is a horror series. It’s not a feel-good watch. In fact, I’m not sure that I would recommend you watch it. On the other hand, I kinda do recommend it? Because it’s a scathing criticism on the state of the western church. But it has moments of gore that made me look away from the tv, and it definitely has themes that are very disturbing and difficult to deal with. The ending is ambiguous and heart breaking. And grim. So if you’re looking for an evening of light hearted entertainment, this is not where you’re going to get it. For all of my Bethel choir peeps, if you watch this show, you’ll never sing “Nearer, my God to Thee” the same way again.
(Yes, the show uses hymns all the way through. The sound track is really haunting. That’s a plus.)
Now I’m going to try and comment on a couple of the themes without actually giving spoiler alerts to those of you who are gutsy enough to ignore my warnings and watch the show.
The series is set in a small town on an island accessible only by ferry from the mainland. The town has seen some rough times; an oil spill has basically killed the fishing industry, and many of the young people have moved away from the island in order to make their lives. The church is in an equal state of decline, with only a few faithful attenders at mass (Catholic Church) and an aging absentee priest who is struggling with a dementia. A young, supply priest is sent to the island, and begins to try and inspire and move the people, who are desperate for any sense of meaning and any relief from their poverty, (and frankly, boredom) to a place of renewed faith and vigor.
But not really.
Because there is this evil that insidiously weaves its way into the conversation. An evil that is so subtle that the fiery sermons that the young priest delivers are – well – I would’ve swallowed them. Even though it skews what I understand as the Good News. I would’ve swallowed them, particularly if I was desperate for something to believe – for hope – for eternity.
It does not end well. And, o.k. tiny spoiler alert, it brings new meaning to Morning Prayers.
You see – the hope and the eternity offered by the priest – the News that the town is so hungry for, is wrapped up in self-preservation, individualism, and self-gain over preservation of the community. The hunger of the people to have relief from their world is manipulated and capitalized on using our own sacred texts to convince people that it’s the path to – what? I’m not sure. Its not righteousness – its something else. I’ll have to think about that.
And this is what I found so disturbing. You see, the music and the texts that we call sacred, that we call ‘Divine’, were used in such a subtle way that the descent into evil was almost imperceptible until it was too late – until the hunger in the people was so intense that they would literally eat each other in order to preserve themselves. At the end of the series, I cried. I cried for a long time. I cried because I could see the church that I love so much tilt and go this direction so easily; in the direction where we could descend into evil without recognizing that we were until it was too late and the only solution would be to burn the whole thing down.
For too long, the voice of the liberal, mainstream church has been tiny, relegated to a small corner where we protest weakly that ‘we aren’t like them’, but our words largely go unheard. And the News that the world hears is from a much louder minority – a minority the says that hope is found in self, in rules, in numbers and oppression of those who are on the margins, instead of grace, redemption and the ‘last being first’. We have a loud minority that slightly skews our sacred stories to make them about power and materialism instead of about love and justice. And we – (o.k., once again your Rev. is using the royal ‘we’) let this be the loudest voice. We have let this skewed, evil news stand instead of what we know as the Good News of Christ Jesus. The good news of justice, love and grace. The good news for the whole world; that the meek will inherit, instead of the wealthy and the powerful.
So, my Bethel friends, I don’t know what else to say, except that I know that you all know this. You all are profoundly faithful, caring and generous with time and resources. So, I know, that you don’t want to head down this path. I just want to join with you so that we can all claim our voice once again. The Voice that reminds people of the Beatitudes instead of the 10 Commandments. The Voice that shouts the Good News that God accepts and loves us all.
Blessings today and remember you are Loved.