Division and peacemaking

A sermon preached at St Mark’s on August 18 on the text Luke 12: 49-56.

The text from the Gospel today is a tough one. It is about Jesus saying he came to bring division to the world. (You can read it here). I gather that far more learned people than I am have decided today to preach on one of the other readings in the lectionary but at St Mark’s we don’t read these, so I have to deal with the Gospel.

Mind you, the other readings (Isaiah 5: 1-7; Hebrews 11: 29-12: 2) aren’t that easy, because they talk of some of the less pleasant things God is portrayed as doing – eg drowning the Egyptians – and this is something that we have to deal with.

And here in this passage, what is going on? Is Jesus talking about his death, about the end times, about strife within the community? Fire is something that is used in the Bible to purify and is painful and associated with a vengeful God.

And what about saying that he had come to bring division? I thought he was the Prince of Peace. After all he said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.

Or was he talking about what inevitably happened because of the radical, anti-establishment nature of the Gospel? Jesus was a divisive character then and continues to be. Those following him at the time would have been seen as radicals and no doubt this divided families, as it still does in some places. And a gospel which said that the outcast was worthy, that the poor should inherit the earth – was this upturning of values the fire he was talking about? It was obviously going to divide people.

And if Jesus inevitably divides people, what are we meant to do about it? Do we just say, oh, that is OK, Jesus said there would be division so I am right to be divided against my friend, neighbour etc? That seems like a lazy, literal interpretation of the text.

I’ve been reading various interpretations of the text and they have been useful but also exposed something at the root of why we have the problem of division –  ie there are lots of interpretations and I, like most of us, have leaned generally towards the ones I agree with and have discounted the others. That interpretation suits me, that one doesn’t so I will go with the first and not the second. Or I can’t fit that one into my narrative so I will ignore it. It doesn’t fit with the conclusions I have already reached.

The issue of my liking some interpretations and not others, the issue of not even considering some interpretations, is fundamental to the issue of division which he talks about and is horribly resonant with society today. I don’t know when there was last such a divided country. The same goes for America. And as I look at people who support opposite views to mine I find myself thinking – how could you? How can you be so: ignorant, selfish, blind etc etc? And they no doubt look at me and say much the same. That sort of attitude and division is not going to bring healing to the world.

Think for a moment about something you are convinced you are right about. What do you feel about the people who disagree with you?

The same goes for church. This was really underlined recently for me when I went to the first Surrey Pride and spent some of my time arguing against a group of men and women from an organisation whose main aim appears to be to challenge LGBTI+ people, and persuade them to turn away from their sexual identities. I believe passionately in a God who accepts people just as they are. This group were made to leave the Pride event – one of the ambulance staff there said that one young person had had a panic attack after they had spoken to this group – but stood outside to talk to people there with the police keeping a watchful eye. The police were fantastic and stood close while I spoke, ready to intervene if they were concerned for anyone’s safety.

Neither the group nor I was going to persuade or even listen to the other. We both knew we were right. But where did that leave us? Probably both sides feeling self-righteous and cross.

So what do we do about these divisions?

My personal response to division has usually been to try to pour oil on troubled water, try to keep everyone happy. Division is bad, right? OK I didn’t try that at Pride but that was unusual. Usually I have tried to be a peacekeeper.

But maybe peacekeeping isn’t the way forward. If we just try to keep the peace then we are less likely to deal with the issues that are causing the division in the first place. We will ignore those issues and they will fester and cause greater issues and greater divisions. Maybe that is one of the things we have been doing in this country which has led to such division now. If one lot of people have felt left behind and another happy with the status quo, maybe that was inevitably going to lead to the divisions we have over Brexit, or inevitably going to lead to Donald Trump.

I think there has been another factor which has been at play here too, encouraging the rise of the right wing, something which has exacerbated the divisions. As a more liberal society has emerged there has been a push back by those whose position and power is threatened – chiefly the mainly white patriarchy.

So we have divisions and if peacekeeping isn’t the way to solve them, what is? Maybe looking at what causes division would help us grow and change for the better. Maybe this is one of the things Jesus meant when he talked about division and about reading the signs. He was saying that there will be division because his way is challenging to the status quo, challenging to the powerful, challenging to the haves, and it is right that it is challenging and divisive, because if it isn’t society will never grow and change and follow his way.

So maybe we shouldn’t be peacekeepers but something more proactive – peacemakers. Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ not blessed are the peacekeepers. Peacemakers are those who look at both sides, see both sides as having rights and responsibilities, offer both sides a way forward. Peacemakers at their best are those who try to look at the world through the eyes of both sides.

But, says the follower of Jesus, my side is obviously right. I am obviously right. My understanding of what Jesus wants is obviously right.

How do we know our interpretation is right? Maybe a little humility would be good here, and maybe a little bit of trying to listen, to each other and to God. I have become more and more convinced that prayer is a way forward (even though I am not good at practising what I preach!). If we pray, try to listen to God as well as each other, then maybe we will change within. Maybe that is the fire that Jesus meant – a fire within us which changes us.

Stella Wiseman

Picture by Sunyu.

 

It’s picnic time for teddy bears at St George’s

Teddy bears and their friends are invited to St George’s, Badshot Lea, tomorrow (Sunday, August 18) for a teddy bears’ picnic at 11.30am.

The picnic, to which all bears and other favourite characters – and their human friends – are invited, will take place as part of the regular Worship for All service which takes place every Sunday at 11.30am.

Lesley Crawley said: “Worship for All is for the whole family and aims to share something of the love of God with all ages, and to be a fun, welcoming service. We hope as many people as possible will round up their bears, big and small, old and young, and come to the teddy bears’ picnic on Sunday.”

Picture: Teddy bear by Dorothe Wouters on Unsplash.

Taking Pride in inclusion

The first Surrey Pride took place on Saturday, August 10, and we were proud to support it and to join in the parade in Woking town centre and the event in the park afterwards.

For too long churches have treated the LGBTI+ community appallingly, at best offering a half-hearted welcome, at worst supporting, even leading, persecution. This is changing, but slowly, and even at Pride in Woking there were people from a group who preached that it is possible to  ‘leave’ LGBT identities and sexual practices as these are ‘in conflict with the Christian scriptures’. Their preaching caused at least one young Pride-goer to have a panic attack in what should have been a safe space. The group was asked to leave but stood outside the main area with the police keeping a watchful eye on them as they continued to approach people.

Thankfully, those at the Christians at Pride stand were welcoming everyone just as they were and offering blessings and assurance that God loves us all, including our sexual identities. To be celebrated and loved like this is a powerful message and one that the church needs to shout out loudly. We try to do so in this parish which is why St Mark’s is sporting a rainbow flag at the moment and why we support the Rainbow Church services elsewhere in the diocese. It is also one of the reasons we belong to Inclusive Church, an organisation that is committed to celebrating and affirming every person and to challenging the church “where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality”.

There will be people in the parish whom this affects personally and there will be people who disagree with this stance. We welcome debate but we ask for respect and humility on all sides. Above all, we ask that we try at all times to listen to God and to seek God in each other.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13, v 35)

egg and sid at Pride

Pride is a colourful event!

Inclusive-church-logo

Lord, teach us to pray

A sermon by Lesley Shatwell on the Lord’s Prayer

The disciples said: “Lord, teach us to pray”.

And then Jesus replied by giving us what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s something which everyone used to learn when they were little – at least that was so back in the 1950s/60s when I was little, but I guess things have moved on since then …

I rather feel that it’s not just me falling behind the times though, because whilst the Lord’s Prayer is the most beloved prayer, well known and well used by Christians every day, I think the words themselves may be concealing some things.

Let me say from the outset that it is completely, totally NOT my intention to question the words of Jesus. These are merely thoughts I have which I hope may encourage you to think prayerfully for yourselves.

Take “Our father” for example.  It seems to me that’s a shorthand for “our mother, our beloved parent who created us, who sees us and knows us better than we know ourselves and who loves us come what may”. Often people have difficulty in thinking about God as father.  It could be for any number of reasons, but we are addressing God here, the God who created us, who is without gender.  Ageless, timeless, and without limit.

And yet, by using the word “Father”, Jesus invites us to have a personal relationship with our God, creator of all things.

We are invited to count ourselves into God’s family.

Our father …

At this point, maybe we had better take a moment to acknowledge the holiness of the Lord’s name.

We come into the holy presence of God.

As Moses was reminded when he approached the burning bush through which God was speaking to him, “Take off your sandals, you are on holy ground.”  Hallowed be your name.

We are allowed to call God “father” but God is holy and we are humble before him.  Let’s not forget the priorities here.

Talking about priorities, “your will be done”.

Yes, that’s your will, Lord, not mine.  Because if I’m honest, you have a much better grasp of things than me.  For instance, I struggle to share all I have generously with your whole creation.  I take too much for granted, I want too much for myself and my loved ones.  I’m inclined to get annoyed and upset if you don’t play your part in my plans to make everything happen the way I want it.  And yes, that hurts.

But I wonder, whilst you are at work on me Lord, it would be useful if I could remember that what I want is not always the most important thing from your point of view.  Help me to be gracious and accepting of your will.  I know ultimately it never works if I try to force you to fall into line with me.  If I make the wrong decisions, gently bring me back to your ways.

Your kingdom come – and please hurry up.  We are in dire need of heaven here on earth right now.  We as humans have made such a mess of so many things.  When your kingdom comes all will be realigned to your ways and I can’t wait.

But in the meantime, we need daily bread now.  Yes, that’s food and clean water, shelter, and safety – everything our bodies need.  But also give us each day our spiritual food.  Help us to grow in wisdom and your grace.

Forgive us our sins.  Oh my goodness, if there was ever someone needing forgiveness, it’s me Lord.  Even when I try to do my best, I fall short.  And I do try, but it is so disheartening when things don’t work out the way you would wish.

I’m inclined to try and hide my shortcomings.  I hide them so well, sometimes it’s difficult to admit I have any, least of all if I call them “sins.” I don’t sin, I’ve been really good just lately … who am I kidding? Yes Lord, I acknowledge that I am less than the perfect human.

I am work in progress, I keep trying and in the meantime I would be grateful if you could forgive my past slip-ups and let me have the freedom to make a clean start.

It hurts when I’m annoyed with someone, when I believe someone is deliberately trying to upset me. Or even if the person upsets me without them knowing it. Lord, give me the grace to forgive everyone who has ever harmed or upset me or my family or my loved ones. Again, I need the freedom which is in your gift, so that I can move on to reconciliation.

Lord, help us through the evil which surrounds us.  Keep us true to you when we seem to be surrounded by darkness and terror.  We are living through uncertain times now.

Circle us with your love and let us know you are with us come thick or thin.  Be with all who suffer, let everyone know that you deliver us from evil.

And Lord, I know I’m asking a lot – but please be aware that I will carry on asking. I’m not going to give up calling on you because I know that you never give up on me. Let me not be too upset if you don’t grant my prayers in the way I ask. You have a far more complete picture than I do, help me to trust your kind and loving judgement of me.

All that said, I do have confidence that if I ask for anything which is good and right in your sight, then my prayer will be answered, in your own time and your own way – for which I thank you.

I know that if I knock persistently on your door you will open it to me.

If I persistently search for you, I will find you.

For you give me your Holy Spirit, so I need never search alone.

Amen

Luke 11.1-13 – Lord’s Prayer: St Mark’s. 28 July 2019.

 

Image by Beki Blade,  used in Thy Kingdom Come 2016 exhibition.

 

A song of praise to a great afternoon

Music is good for the health – studies in recent years have shown its importance to our mental, physical and emotional health. It can certainly lift our mood and bring people together, as was ably demonstrated on Saturday by Singing and Reminiscing, a celebration at St John’s Church of the past 175 years in music and memories.

Wendy Edwards and Margaret Emberson led the audience, along with members of the choirs of St John’s and St George’s, in singing songs from each decade since St John’s Church was founded in 1844.

Though some of these were from years that no-one would be able to remember, Wendy and Margaret had gone to the trouble of finding ones which were well enough known for us to be able to sing along with ease. So we happily joined in with familiar numbers such as My Grandfather’s ClockWhere Did You Get That Hat?; and Keep the Home Fires Burning, and then moved on to those which at least most in the audience could remember from the original recordings – including Sunrise, Sunset; a Beatles medley; some ABBA; The Music of the Night (with a very effective solo from Bill Thomas and an extremely high E from Margaret); and the moving A Flower Remembered, written by John Rutter as a commemoration of the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami followed by a nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan.

For the present day there was a new song, which we sang in a round under Margaret’s guidance – Song for Saint John’s, which Margaret had written to celebrate what we do at the church – and rounded off with a rousing version of the hymn For All the Saints.

In between Wendy spoke about the history of St John’s and the area and even produced a picture of the church’s founder Bishop Charles Sumner and his wife Jennie, which had to have been taken before 1849 as Jennie died that year.

Part way through we stopped for a cream tea with melt-in-the-mouth homemade scones, and there was plenty of reminiscing as old friends caught up with each other.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and huge thanks must go not just to Wendy and Margaret and the choir, but to all those who worked so hard behind the scenes to make this a success.

There has been an unprecedented number of special events at St John’s over the past few months as we have celebrated the 175th birthday of the church and without the hard work and support of church members these events would never have happened. The whole parish is truly grateful – and a little bit awed!

Wendy, Margaret and the choirs are taking Singing and Reminiscing to Farnham Mill nursing home in November where I know it will be hugely appreciated.

SW

 

Pictured top: The choir with Wendy and Margaret.