Last Sunday I was preaching about naming those demons but this Sunday I was preaching after the vote and in the new reality in which we are in. The community of which I am part is, in the main, stunned. So I thought I would share my sermon with you. The readings (which once more were a gift to the preacher) were 1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21, Galatians 5.1,13-25, Luke 9.51-62.
There’s only one person who’s really celebrated for turning back and he was a former Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Many of us will have seen a panto version of ‘Dick Whittington’ and so will remember the scene when Dick has set off with his cat and his possessions slung over his shoulder, retracing his steps because things hadn’t worked out as he had dreamt, hoped they would. And then he hears the bells of the city ringing out and calling him back as they sang, ‘Turn again, Whittington; turn again, Whittington.’ And he heeded the voice of the bells and turned back and became Lord Mayor.
At the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries Richard Whittington actually became the Mayor of our great city on four occasions though the rest of the story is fiction even though you can see a statue of him and his cat in the Guildhall!
In the story he thought the streets of London were paved with gold and of course they weren’t but they were paved with the opportunity to be successful, the opportunity to make a difference, the streets did form another kind of city, another kind of country.
Both in the First Reading and in the Gospel we’re encouraged not to turn back. When we’ve put our hand to the plough, when we’ve said that we’ll follow Jesus, then we should not turn back, not even to bury the dead. It’s all about commitment to discipleship, it’s about commitment to Jesus, commitment to the journey, commitment to the kingdom and heading back, retracing our steps is just a waste of time and energy. Heading forwards is so much more positive is what Jesus is saying to his disciples, even if he has set his face towards Jerusalem and what will ultimately happen there.
I have to be honest with you. I was gutted when I woke on Friday morning at around 4.00am, put on the radio and heard how the votes in the referendum were coming in. When I’d gone to bed it seemed as though there might be a chance that we’d voted to remain. But we hadn’t and in the first streaks of the dawn and a new day it was clear that we were in a very different place. I was too shocked to cry but I could’ve done. I voted to remain and I can still see no sense in how the vote has gone. But I believe in democracy and the people of the United Kingdom have spoken and we’re leaving the European Union.
I could’ve cried then but I couldn’t but I did cry later. One of the priests in the diocese was having breakfast with her 13 year old daughter. They were listening to the news. They’re black, Caribbean heritage, both of them first generation in this country. And the daughter turned and said to her mother ‘Does that mean we have to leave?’
I’m not really bothered what happens to the politicians, I am bothered about what happens to our children and the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society. I am bothered about the seeds of doubt and un-belonging that are sown into young minds. What she thought was not true and her mother reassured her – but for that moment what did it feel like to her?
But on Friday the sun rose and shone and in the evening it set again, day follows day and Jesus Christ, as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews describes it so well, is the same ‘yesterday and today and for ever.’ The world turns and God is good – and I have to believe that.
I’m not assuming, and I never have assumed, that every one of us in this Cathedral voted in the same way. I know I have a very privileged position, as do my colleagues. We can get into this pulpit and sound off about things and we do. And because we’re a community that’s inclusive and engaged, orthodox and radical, a community that believes in the reality of love, then we tend not to shy away from the issues of the day and hide ourselves in pietism. I make no apology for that. Christianity is about the whole of life and the whole of life is nailed to the cross and resurrected in Jesus Christ.
But however you voted, and you had every freedom to vote as you did, or not vote as you chose, we’re all in the same situation and we’re all probably feeling a sense of anxiety, of the fear of the not knowing. But there’s absolutely no turning back. There’s no turning back to the world as it was before we entered the Common Market – that world does not exist; there’s no turning back to the days of Empire, thank God those days no longer exist, and even the Commonwealth has changed since our young Queen first took her seat amongst those serried ranks of men.
We only ever go forward and we go forward together because we believe that the world is already good and already good for all, if we embrace, really embrace and live out the values that St Paul speaks of in our second reading.
Those who live in the Spirit, says Paul to the Galatians, will produce fruits of
‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’
And then he adds
‘There is no law against such things.’
There are no laws, no regulations to stop us being a people characterised by those qualities. We have now a massive task before us as a nation, we have to rebuild this country and work at reconciliation – but what will be its values? We can’t turn back we can only go forward and those fruits, I believe, are the ones that can make us a good place to be.
It was ironic that the end game of the referendum was played out in Refugee Week of which this is the final day. Voting to leave the EU does not solve the refugee crisis that Europe and so much of the wealthy and safer world is facing. Inevitably it will mean that the crisis comes closer to home as the UK border is moved from Calais to Kent. One of the very real challenges we’ll quickly have to face is how we welcome and embrace refugees properly and no longer keep them at arms length across the Channel. It will be the church which will help the nation face that challenge and meet that opportunity with love and compassion and it will be the church who can help the nation to face up to reality in all our communities as the implications of leaving Europe begin to bite.
I’m confident that we as a community that doesn’t just talk inclusion but lives inclusion, that doesn’t just talk community but lives community, that doesn’t just talk love but lives love, will be wanting to play our part.
The Jesus we meet in the Gospels always goes before us and leads us to the good city, not paved with gold, but built of ‘love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ those living stones on which the structure of society can be built.
As Paul says ‘Christ has set us free’ but not free to serve our own needs, free to serve the needs of the other and free especially for those who now feel scared and anxious and vulnerable – and the face of Jesus looks out from amongst them.
There’s a journey to be made and we need food for that journey. That’s precisely why we’re here – there’s bread and wine on offer. Eat it, drink it because the journey we now face together will be long and hard but know this, my friends, Jesus is walking it with us.
wherever we are now going
walk with us
feed us and love us
as you always have done
and always will do.