Sermon: Sunday 14 July 2013
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
The Revd Canon David Jennings, Canon Theologian
I rarely have dreams, let alone nightmares, although two nights ago I dreamt that my wife was being horrible to me – perhaps it wasn’t dream, I simply can’t remember! On occasions, I have dreamt that I have become a Tory, or a conservative evangelical (often the same thing!) or, horror of horrors, I have been unable to obtain my daily fix of The Guardian and have had to make do with The Daily Telegraph! This wasn’t a dream, but a reality in France last week, as I scoured the newspaper kiosks to satisfy my craving. For me these are all of nightmare proportions. But perhaps the biggest nightmare any of us could have, and many do experience, is that of being either attacked and robbed by others, or being sufficiently poor and outcast as to have to rely on the charity of benefactors, often unknown. The reality, thankfully for many of us here this morning, is that of being relatively comfortable and affluent with the support of family and friends when in need, and not being sufficiently marginalised as to experience the opprobrium of fellow citizens. The needs of others, especially those who are marginalised either in popular discourse or the media, are not always apparent to those who not only are tempted to pass by on the other side, but who inhabit such a different world as to quite literally have no idea what it is to have sufficient need as to require welfare benefits or the use of food banks, to say nothing of those who live in the poorest regions of our world.
Today is Sea Sunday. It is also Bastille Day, which commemorates the start of the French Revolution. However, we focus on Sea Sunday, and the work of the Mission to Seafarers. The leaflet which you have received details not only the importance of seafarers in providing for much of our daily necessities, often unrecognised or appreciated, but also the many risks that they experience in this essential task. Also, detailed are the personal difficulties that seafarers experience, which include isolation and loneliness. It is clear from this information not only how important seafarers are to us all, but also how important the Mission is in addressing the needs of seafarers and ministering to them throughout the world. I make no apology in commending the work of the Mission and calling upon your charity to give support through your generosity. The leaflet states that the Mission has teams of caring chaplains and volunteers over the world offering ‘the hand of Christian fellowship, and a safe haven, for sick, lonely, exhausted and troubled crew of all ranks, nationalities and beliefs in over 200 ports in 71 countries.’ If this work is not worth supporting, I don’t know what is!
It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the Gospel reading today from Luke is that concerning the Good Samaritan. This story, for many, encapsulates what it is to be a Christian, or person of good will in society. Clearly, the fact that the despised Samaritan ministered to the man who fell among thieves, as opposed to the upright Levite (a part of the governing class) and the priest (part of the religious establishment – he might have had a seat in the Jewish equivalent of the House of Lords!) is a relevant and significant part of the story and the lesson. However, it is by no means the whole story that still resonates with us today. Firstly, because the man was injured and possibly dead, the religious rules concerning purity necessitated avoidance. The Levite and the Priest acted appropriately and in accordance with the custom and rules pertaining to the time. Are we sometimes not similarly inhibited? What rules, values, beliefs, affluence and assumptions prevent us from ministering to those in need? Secondly, and related, is the question ‘who is my neighbour?’ All too often we live and advocate a very limited understanding of being neighbour. A neighbour, more often than not, is a person similar to ourselves, either in terms of class, social status, club membership, ethnicity, sexuality, wealth and a raft of other distinctions which always get in the way of being a true neighbour. The simple truth is that within our shared Christian faith and vision, the world is our neighbour and every single God created human being and living creature. Now there’s something to think about, and which not only complicates but confounds our normal and natural prejudices and limit of vision. Within the context of today’s theme, the seafarer, whoever and wherever he or she may be, is our neighbour, and is not only worthy but also demands our care, concern and charity. The answer, therefore, to the question ‘who is my neighbour’ is in fact a very simple one, and one that in truth we know the answer to, no matter how unwilling we may be to get it right. This must not be like the answer given to Alexander Armstrong in a recent edition of Pointless when the contestant was asked, ‘who was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald?’, replied ‘JR’. Let us do better than that in our answer to today’s question.