1 John 3:16-24
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, Our strength and Our Redeemer. Amen.
At the end of one of the Harry Potter films, I forget which one now. The hero Headmaster – Professor Dumbledore, says “it is not the abilities you have that make you who you are, it is the choices that you make”.
This 4th Sunday of Easter – what might the Spirit be saying to us about the choices we make?
How we live? How we see the world? How we respond to life generally?
There are very few things we have choices about.
I have a long list of things I wish I had a choice about – frustrations and grievances, things that annoy and disturb in equal measure.
We live, with all sorts of challenges and circumstances beyond our control, and we are called by God to hold on to Him as he holds on to us.
And though the boat is filling up with water, we must remain and trust that God in Christ Jesus will save the day.
St Paul didn’t say that we should “work” out our own salvation for nothing…!
We wrestle with scripture,
We wrestle with doubts,
We wrestle with God and with all those things that keep us up at night.
I wonder if you have ever looked at the world, or the state of you own life and wondered where on earth God is?
I wonder if you have ever let go of hope?
I wonder if you have ever lost sight of the resurrection?
Only four Sundays in to the glorious season of Easter, we are pulling at the staff of the Good Shepherd, or waiting for his call, or longing to be picked up again.
The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s despair – and there are many people in our world whose lives are full of despair. No hope, no joy, no peace – just hopelessness.
I don’t know if you knew, but the Rabbi’s in Auschwitz put God on trial, and at the end of a very long trial, they found God guilty.
And then, one of the Chief Rabbi’s said: “Let us pray”.
There is a sense in which our faith journey is constantly a mixture of bittersweet – of chasing the rainbow through the rain, one of the most moving parts of the ancient funeral liturgy which we don’t have in our worship book anymore – are the words: “Yet, even at the grave: we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia”.
Because the reality of resurrection isn’t dependent thank God! On individual circumstances, the Truth which the Church teaches doesn’t change from week to week – so we hold onto that even the midst of horror.
This week, I was horrified and disturbed by the story of those migrants who were travelling across the Mediterranean.
People who were so desperate that they had no other options open, but to stay at home (wherever home may be) and die, or try their chances of getting to somewhere safer.
You would think it would go without saying, that if people are willing to put themselves at such great risk, whatever it is that they are trying to escape is a more certain end than the chances, however small they may be, of survival in another place.
To leave home, family, friends, work, culture, identity and board a ship with no sure idea of where that ship will end up, or what will happen to you is a major thing to do.
And yet, at the same time, in the face of their despair…
There are people who voice such hatred and malice and negativity to those who have no choices to make in life.
People like Katie Hopkins, who this week called those very same people ‘cockroaches’ and then went on to say on LBC that she would quite happily use war ships against them – just days before a boat from Libya capsized with 800 people on it.
One person from Eritrea said “If I die at sea, that’s not a problem, at least I won’t be tortured”.
All those people from Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan desperate – for life, desperate for survival, infact they are not even desperate for life, they just don’t want to be slaughtered…tortured, abused.
Pope Francis said just this week: “They are men and women like us – our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war,”. That image of Jesus rising from the tomb, and dragging Adam and Eve along with him, depicts Jesus as the bridge – the bridge between what many people see as two extremes – it’s in that place the Church is called to stand.
The worrying thing is, I feel, that although Katie Hopkins is one of the people brave enough to voice her ignorance, many many people think and feel just as she does.
She has lost her humanity, to such a degree that she can call other human beings cockroaches…
Not only should they be left, but should they be exterminated? Wiped out?
Is she calling for the next Genocide, the Holocaust of the migrants?!
Her language is adding fuel to fire, inciting hatred, and enmity in the hearts of people who do not give a damn. Her language is the language of Nazi Germany.
Last year, 3, 279 Mediterranean migrants died on route, and already this year 1, 754 have died.
Most of those in the central Mediterranean.
More people died in the Mediterranean last year than died in 9/11, and we can do something about the migrant situation. We can protest, we can petition, we can send financial aid via charities – we can go without what we think is essential, so that others may have what is truly essential.
Those images of the bodies of Men, Women and Children rotating lifeless in the sea – you can’t describe that sense of tragedy.
And in a flash, our comfortable lifestyles could turn around – what if our Government fell apart…what if ISIS, or El-Shabab, or Boko Haram or the Ebola virus ended up taking over the UK – would we want the world to turn a blind eye, to call us cockroaches, to leave the bodies of our loved ones in the midst of the ocean – no ceremony, no value, no dignity.
There’s a story of a priest who is travelling after visiting the sick in his city, and all the public transport has stopped, he sees to young children and an older boy is carrying his little brother on his back, and the older one seems to really be struggling – his hands are full with shopping and the younger brother is hanging on tightly to him as he’s being carried –
The priest stops them and says: “Why don’ t you let your brother walk, he’s old enough to – you’ll end up wearing both of you out. Isn’t he too heavy to be carried?!”
And the older boy looks at the priest and says: “No, he’s my brother” and off he goes.
Sometimes the weight of other people’s burdens are too heavy for us, we don’t anything to do with them, we can be very good as Christian people at showing false compassion.
We seem concerned, we seem interested, we seem troubled by other peoples burdens but we don’t always show true compassion.
True compassion is living people’s experiences with them, true compassion is seeing people’s burdens as your own, because we are all interconnected into the tapestry that is God.
We heard in Acts – to go back to scripture for a moment: ‘The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.”
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
We reject far too often, the poor.
We reject the weak.
We reject the depressed.
We reject the outspoken.
We reject the young.
We reject the old.
We reject the immigrant.
We reject Christ.
That which was rejected, Christ Jesus himself, has become the cornerstone.
We are all related, we are all interdepent, we are all interconnected…
And the Church, that’s us, must stand as a mirror to the world – reminding it, in the power of the name of Jesus Christ that that no-one, no matter who they are deserves to die in the way we allow so many to die.
And when good Christian people do what is right, in the name of Jesus Christ – people will question our authority and our right to tell the world how it ought to live…but remember what happened when healing was brought about by the disciples ministry and questions were being asked…
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead”.
Resurrection means nothing, if it doesn’t transform our entire universe.
Resurrection means nothing if it is only for those people who were present at the time in the biblical narrative.
Resurrection means nothing if it does not impact the social and political aspect of our living.
That means that we cannot accept the suffering in our world that is caused by us.
That means that we cannot accept wasted life.
That means that we cannot accept poverty, and injustice and murder…
That means that, just as Good Shepherd laid down his life for us, so must we be willing to lay down our lives for others…we ask where is God in the midst of our tragedy, God is here – in each of us, we are to make sacrifices for one another, to love as he loves us, to give and not count the cost.
I can’t say it enough – that must change the way we think, it must change the way we act, it must change the way we see the stranger – because in Christ there is no stranger.
And so, it must affect what we do with our votes on May the 7th too!
To go back to the Harry Potter Quote I used at the beginning…“it is not the abilities you have that make you who you are, it is the choices that you make”.
Resurrection isn’t about our faithfulness, it is about God’s faithfulness. And after the resurrection Jesus uses the language that the disciples will understand, and he meets them in the old familiar places where they ate, and rested and relaxed together before his crucifixion – it’s not about us.
We don’t have a choice about the circumstances of life,
Of finance…but we can choose to put ourselves in the way of life.
To put ourselves in the places,
Around the people,
In the activities where we might see and sense and share the Easter atmosphere at Easter People.
I wouldn’t claim for one moment, to really know what it’s like to be one of those migrants who are feeling horror, but maybe to put ourselves in the way of life is what those migrants who have risked everything have to teach us – that we can put ourselves, in the way of life…because that is the reality of Easter, of Resurrection, of Christian hope.
Putting ourselves in the way of life, even when all around us seems like death and darkness.
When we are close to despair, hopeless, depressed, broken…
That was what Jesus came to teach the disciples all along…and the funny thing is the very thing’s that they criticized Jesus for doing…
The way Jesus ministered.
The way Jesus lived.
The way Jesus broke down barriers.
The way Jesus laid down his life upon the cross. Putting himself in the way of danger.
It was those things that they found themselves doing in all four corners of the world – preaching the Gospel, healing the sick, breaking down barriers, caring for the poor and dying for the sake of the Gospel.
To live for each other.
To be Christ to one another.
To die for the Truth and love and beauty of The Gospel…
That, is compassion. That is Christian love. That is what God calls us to do, in the ways and places to which we are placed.
We are called to put ourselves in the way of life, to carry one another’s burdens, and in the strength of the Holy Spirit, only in the strength of the Holy Spirit to keep holding on to he who was rejected, crucified, died, buried and who rose again and lives for us and for all humankind.
So make the choice, choose to put yourself in the way of life, and through your living pull as many of God’s children as you can, through your praying, through your giving, through your living…but most importantly through your God-given ability to love just as Jesus Christ, who even on the cross was able to offer mercy, loves. We love, because God first loved us, let us love and let us love well.
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