Sermon preached at Cyncoed Methodist Church on Sunday 18th June 2017.
Epistle: Romans 5: 1-8
Gospel Reading: Matthew 9: 35 – 38 & 10: 8
‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’.
It can seem as though, every Sunday – as a preacher – we are having to reflect somehow, on some tragedy, that has taken place somewhere.
The darkness of our world, is almost overbearing – and acts of kindness however good they are seem, in moments like this, a tiny antidote to the evil we see so often….
The biggest danger for any of us, both as disciples and as preachers, is that we become use to issuing the same platitudes and words of regret and sorrow each time tragedy hits us.
The task of the preacher, is to be preach the Gospel just as it is – in light of the world just as it is, with an eye to the world as it ought to be.
If we have learnt anything in recent times, but particular over the past 4 weeks, and that is all that it’s been – is that the world, our nation, is not as it should be.
Today, as we gather in this place,
And sing our hymns,
And offer our prayers,
And hear from God –
There are those,
Not all that far from here –
Who have no song to sing,
No prayer to offer,
No God in whom they have confidence, or trust, or faith.
For everything they knew,
And the people they loved,
And the places they called home,
Have been utterly destroyed.
In scripture, those moments of despair,
Are so clearly expressed in that short sentence of the psalmist:
‘Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice – let thine ears be attentive to my cry.’
Or more appropriate, are the words from Lamentations:
‘my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, ‘Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.’
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me…
All our enemies
have opened their mouths against us;
panic and pitfall have come upon us,
devastation and destruction.
My eyes flow with rivers of tears
because of the destruction of my people.
My eyes will flow without ceasing,
until the Lord from heaven
looks down and sees.’
Looking at those scenes, either of terror, or more recently of tragedy through misfortune, neglect, and abuse – those scenes of people staring at a building ablaze at Grenfell Tower.
Many watching the homes of their neighbours come alight, whilst their neighbours waved bedsheets or threw down their children, or who quite literally in the heat of the moment, decided that it was better to hit the ground and die, than stay and burn alive.
Many who stood on the ground, held back by emergency services whilst on the phone to their friends still in the midst of the fire –
Many who didn’t know what was going on, or where their loved ones where, or what had happened to that neighbor, or brother who was at one point coming down the staircase with you, and in a flash as you make it outside, is somehow no longer beside you.
Friends, those were the scenes of hell.
Those were the scenes of despair.
Those were the scenes of a nightmare that for one too many in our society was infact a dream.
Because that ugly,
unsightly building – full of people who apparently do not belong in the richest borough of the country – were being sorted out.
People who had raised concerns,
People who had raised the alarm years before this fire had begun,
People whose opinions, and thoughts, and lives did not matter enough.
Because those were Kensington and Chelsea’s cheap lives.
Easily lost, and easily replaced, by wealthier, more ‘important’ people.
But not to God.
Absolutely not to God.
To God there are NO cheap lives.
To God there are NO lives that are redundant.
To God there is NObody that deserves to die because they’re lives are seen as insignificant.
Infact, if you take a look at scripture – what we see is a God who has a special interest and invesement in the welfare of the poor. A special kind of heart, and eye and mind, for those who vulnerable and oppressed, a God who has not an ounce of sympathy for the oppressor.
It’s not that He loves the poor more, it’s just that he has a lot more to say about how they are treated more than any other group of people. And the consequences of their maltreatment is always severe. Jesus says, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that the only way to have eternal life is to go and do likewise –
To help the vulnerable,
To protect the poor,
To clothe the naked,
To pay for the treatment of the sick,
And to challenge injustice wherever it is found.
Remember the disciples….not quite understanding what Jesus meant by love, and compassion, and social care…in that same Gospel we heard from this evening:
“for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
Any of us who have seen, the response to any of those recent horrors in our nation, will know that at the centre of the response has been people of faith. And many many Christians – doing the things of Christ, doing the things of the Gospel.
We’ve seen it in Manchester,
We’ve seen it in London Bridge and Borough Market,
We’re seeing it now in Kensington and Chelsea.
But let’s not pretend as though the only thing God asks of us, in this moment – and in any human tragedy, is just to be kind – and caring – and nice.
But also to let justice roll down like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream….Because the Christian thing, goes much much deeper than just acts of kindness – sometimes it involves a Christian boldly standing up in the power of the Holy Spirit – pointing to a President, a Pope, or a Prime Minister and saying: ‘Mr President, Holy Father, Mrs Prime Minister….you are a sinner, and what you are doing is evil. And I believe that just as God shall judge me, so will he judge you.’
Jesus tells us the kind of Kingdom that he wants,
Jesus tells us his vision for the world,
Jesus tells us of what his ministry and life are about. In Luke 4 he says:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
That was from the same Jesus, who when he saw the people of faith not living as they ought to – and decides to flip tables in anger.
The Church, that’s us, also has a role to play – in ensuring that captives are released, that the poor receive good news, and that the oppressed are set free –
That means being as involved and committed to the road and path to justice,
As it does – doing the nice and kind things we are seeing happening in all those places.
The injustice, of what has happened to those people in Grenfell Tower is going to ignite an anger so potent that good Christian people are going to find themselves in a place where nice and kind and diplomatic are simply not enough. And clergy are going to have to find their prophetic fire in the very face of evil.
You don’t get to tell people whose families and friends have been incinerated by negligence, to ‘calm down and wait for God to effect justice’, and Jesus wouldn’t just do that either. Weeping with those who weep, and mourning with those who mourn means living the very experience with them.
Reconciliation – all those things have their place and their time and their use, but for now people must be allowed to wail, and rage, and give voice to their anger.
This isn’t to give a Methodist signature to violence – I would quote to my own ends, Wesley’s hymn ‘Soldiers of Christ Arise!’ if I wanted to do that!
It’s to say that as Christians, as the Church, we have to understand that there are very legitimate, and I would say sacred and holy reasons why people feel angry in this country following the Grenfell Fire.
And the answer for us, is to do exactly what Jesus does in our Gospel Reading –
What our Prime Minister sadly tried to do way too late:
‘When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’.
And our compassion,
Our shepherding of lost sheep,
Our love of neighbour,
Has got to go further down the road, and be more longsighted than just opening up our buildings, clothing and feeding people, and having a retiring collection – we have to be bold, and ready when the time comes – when the opportunity arises, and it will arise –
The church has got to ask, alongside those people – some serious, and searching questions of the government, of that local council, of all those involved –
Because someone somewhere has blood on their hands.
And it is the blood of God’s children,
It is the blood of God’s family,
It is the blood of the innocent,
The blood of the oppressed,
The blood of the poor,
And the blood of the neglected.
Those people perished because they did not belong to the class or culture that people see as having value.
Those people perished because they were considered strangers in their own community, by the real strangers – the rich, and elite.
Those people perished because no-one was looking out for their welfare but themselves.
They perished because they simply did not matter.
And that fact is a sign of a sick, unchristian, and diabolic reality in our nation.
We heard in our reading from Matthew:
‘Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.’
Our society is full of disease and sickness –
And that disease and that sickness is a grotesque and obvious lack of love.
And the cure to that sickness is the life, message and cross of Jesus Christ.
That same Jesus who gives authority to his Church, over everything that is unclean and evil in the world, who gave the Church the cure to every disease and every societal sickness – the cure that is in him, and through him and with him constantly offered.
If the Church can do anything useful in this present moment – it is to remind people, constantly, of the sanctity and dignity of Every. Human. Life. To hold a mirror up to the powers of the world and say boldly: ‘the people your decisions will affect, are people who are made in the image of God, and that God is real, and that God is holy, and that God is just. Remember that.’
St Paul said to us, in our reading from Romans 5:
‘that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us’.
Well that is all well and good, but those people have suffered and endured for so long –
And in 2017, the saddest thing for me is this:
We don’t really know how to stop a terrorist,
We don’t really know how to stop planes being blown up, or how to stop a man driving his vehicle into crowds of people – because these acts are random…that is the nature of terror.
But we do know how to stop buildings catching on fire.
We know that sprinklers,
And fire extinguishers,
And alarms – stop people from dying in these situations.
And although we knew all that, someone somewhere – decided that it didn’t matter one bit.
Because their love of money,
was higher than their love of neighbor.
And we, the Church, the Body of Christ – must be mad at that, must cry shame at that – and must do all we can within our power, to ensure that people who are so consumed by evil and greed – are woken up, brought to justice and through the power of the Spirit brought to their knees in repentance.
Until that time, might we labour and do our part, committed to that long road to justice –
May God grant to the living, grace;
to the departed, rest;
to the world, peace;
and to us sinners, eternal life.