Sunday 10 July 2016
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
The Reverend Canon Alison Adams, Canon Pastor & Sub-Dean
The Good Samaritan – a post referendum perspective
The Good Samaritan story – seminal in Jesus’ teaching and with huge traction outside of Christian faith. But also so familiar that we may miss subtleties. Whom do you identify with? I don’t suppose any of us want to be thought of as establishment figures walking by. I guess we’d like to think of ourselves as the Samaritan (except that many of us are not outsiders), but how do we really measure up to the Samaritan’s love? And do we ever identify with the man in the ditch?
So often Church social action is seen as helping other people. We feel we have something to offer them in terms of social capital, and often in real terms as well. But is that really so? Might we actually be the ones more in need of help? There’s a lot of wisdom around about Churches twinning together, where actually the so-called rich Church, entering into the relationship in order to help the poorer Church, actually ends up the greater beneficiary. Because the greatest treasures are not money but love, resilience, wisdom, big hearts and great souls. So let’s be both cautious and honest about where we stand on the Samaritan stakes.
The day after the referendum I found myself saying I don’t know who I am and Johannes said, ‘Welcome to my world’. Many the world over can echo that kind of bewilderment of identity – some for very positive reasons in that they have ties in many different places and cultures – but that’s not how everyone sees the map. I can remember when to be English was often proudly to acknowledge mongrel blood – a quarter this and half that. Those same people now are applying for European passports, on the basis of their mixed backgrounds. From what I know of my ancestry, I don’t think I’m anything but English, and yet that is precisely what I won’t feel myself to be, if to be British or English becomes associated with xenophobia and fear of difference. And I don’t know, but some of you may well do, what it feels like to be British of several generations, with no other home, but yet now treated differently by racist elements. With the social media becoming places to shout and others going further, with petty vandalism and hate crime belying a deeper unrest, we have to address this and, for us, our faith is a key starting point.
Today is very special for a beloved person in our midst – Sunny George – and we rightly celebrate. To some folk Sunny and his largely Asian Church community at All Saints may be seen as outsiders. But, while his community gathers from different corners of the city, Sunny is recognised as pastor, now priest, in that place , talking eloquently of the needs of the people on his patch, where the forgotten marginalised – the outsiders – may well be the indigenous white population growing old and increasingly isolated. Who is insider and who outsider? In the Cathedral Sunny could be considered very positively as the outsider because he has been loaned to us here for a while from that community – what a gift! Nomadic, journeying and identifiable with Christ. That’s the key – bottom line our identity is not British or European but Christic.
In our second reading the writer thanks God for the people of Colossae and writes about hope bearing fruit among that community, asking for knowledge of God, strength, patience, spiritual wisdom and understanding. That could – should – be us. What hope have we laid up in heaven? Bearing fruit among our community? Growth in the knowledge of God? All the immediate post-Christian writings offer great insight because here were people who were no longer at ease amongst their own community sometimes painfully, but with increasing momentum, finding ways of creating new community – different ways of being predicated upon faith, not ethnic, cultural or economic background. ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, male nor female – all are one in Christ.’ Recognise that phrase? They worked hard at the common bonds – fundamentals of being in community – and what were the principles? The fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace etc. Including self-control.
While we don’t physically live in community here, we need to this take seriously. If our faith means something to us (and I hope it does) then we should aspire to live as Kingdom people. I often use the phrase ‘one foot in eternity’: while I live on this earth, I am conscious of a different dimension entirely, where many of the things which might matter don’t really, but other priorities come into play. Like how may I best live out a Christ-centred life, however patchy, in the here and now. That’s about calling and it’s not just an issue for me or Sunny or anyone else with a defined Church role, but a question for all. Particularly pertinent in these uncertain times, as we ask ourselves where we belong. Citizenship may be geographically located, but the deeper belonging is to the Kingdom of Heaven which, taken properly, defines our identity in this world.
Our country is fractured and anxious. Our contribution to healing and ultimate well-being lies in a commitment to the flourishing of all, in generosity and hospitality. Starting from here, by engaging with those of our Cathedral community whom we don’t really know. Moving outwards to care of neighbour, in challenging bigotry with love, in not being drawn into fractious argument but encouraging honest dialogue. In seeing behind fear and anger to why people feel disenfranchised and speaking and acting to mitigate this, to bring into being a more just and inclusive society. In calling leaders to account, challenging self-centred politics and supporting those of whatever political persuasion who have the common good at heart. It’s not enough to pray, if prayer means remaining in our bubble and passing the buck. The Archbishop of Canterbury and other voices in the House of Lords have spoken passionately about not treating people as bargaining chips. People as merely monetary units means that those without economic value who rely on the compassion of the benefits system (predicated, let’s not forget, on the principles of caring for one’s neighbour) – those people will feel abandoned like the man in the ditch. As Christians we cannot allow that.
‘Till we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.’ Words iconic of English patriotism. If we are serious about metaphorically building the Holy City here – to put it another way, creating God’s Kingdom here in this country – then this cannot be purely about Englishness, but about shared humanity, where none are excluded. It only takes the absence of good for evil to creep in: there is a task for us all not only to ensure that what we say, blog and do is worthy of our faith and Christ would approve, but also to be a force for good within our own spheres of activity, willing to challenge that which runs counter to God’s vision for us which, I would suggest, many of our compatriots of whatever faith and political persuasion would share, at the core of which lie justice and compassion.
Insider or outsider, Samaritan or Jew, in the ditch or walking along the road – we are, variously, all of these. A road, a journey, an encounter – Jericho or Emmaus – let’s not forget that Christ is our companion along the way, and let his wisdom permeate our actions and burn our hearts.