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Sermon from Sunday 7 June
This past week, the president of the United States stood outside a church in Washington DC, with a Bible in his hand. For once he didn’t say anything. I suppose he was trying a kind of shorthand, for those who support him. Without words he was saying: I still share your values – these values. But that gesture, and its subtext, shows a complete lack of understanding of what he held in his hand.
In that, he is not unique. Leaders through the ages have sought to persuade those who support them, that they are safe, because they hold religious values. And those ‘values’ have been used again and again: against those who are on the opposite side, or different from, or useful to, the leader and their supporters.
Church and society in this country is not exempt. The scenes on the streets of American cities have also been seen on British streets. A few days ago 100 people gathered outside York Minster, socially distanced, and took a knee.
When the leader of a nation calls those peacefully protesting terrorists, the struggle is not just about people being mean, or nice to one another.
What we have heard in the stories that have been told by black people across the world, is that racism is built into the structures of our societies: this goes deep.
We see it in the higher death rates from COVID-19 amongst BAME people in this country. We see it in schools results, and university admissions. We see it in the jobs market, and the media. We see it in the criminal justice system, and we see it in the church.
This is not a black-people problem.
This is our problem.
This is us.
And it is utterly unchristian.
Today the Church remembers God as three in one, and one in three: a God who through baptism invites us into the community of God.
The invitation into the life of God, was first given to disciples who themselves were part of a persecuted people. God lifted them up – not the elite who ran Jerusalem.
Instead God in Jesus welcomed those who were fishermen at best, tax collectors at worst, and sinners all.
It was this rag-tag group to whom the Holy Spirit gave gifts of speech and prophecy, teaching and healing.
It was this group who took the message out beyond Jerusalem, to all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And what was that message?
In response to that picture of Donald Trump with a Bible in his hand, many Christians have talked about the Good News of Jesus, who, in the Sermon on the Mount, said:
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
But they’ve also pointed out that Jesus’ response to injustice in his Father’s house was to flip tables, and drive out the money changers.
The good news of Jesus is one of radical inclusion.
This isn’t an opportunity for us to show how ‘tolerant’ or ‘woke’ we are.
This is about God’s love for all of God’s creation.
Love which sees to the heart of a person.
Love which welcomes in.
Love which feeds and nurtures.
Love which builds up and sends out.
Love which draws us closer to God, and to one another.
Love which rejects the conventions of status, power, and lifts those who have been dismissed by others, into the heart of God.
The God we obey is a God of pure love: creative, generous, joyous.
This same God calls us now to worship.
Calls us to obey.
Calls us to go and teach others everything that Jesus has taught us.
Such a task may feel overwhelming to us.
How are we to change the course of centuries of oppression? How are we to build a new kingdom?
A few thoughts to end on. Doubt is fine: the disciples doubted, but were equipped nonetheless, by the Holy Spirit. We are not alone: Jesus, through the Spirit, is with us, to the end of the age.
We can do this.
By honouring people as precious to God – and getting to know them.
By listening, by being open to the lives of others.
By going to them, rather than expecting them to come to us.
By questioning and challenging the systems, policies and structures, which may appear to serve us well, but harm others.
By being peacemakers.
And occasionally, by flipping tables.
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