Sermon: Sunday 26 June 2016
Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Preacher: The Revd Canon Alison Adams, Canon Pastor and Sub-Dean
After the EU Referendum
Luke 9.51–end & Galatians 5.1, 13–25
‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Many people today could echo that sentiment – whether homeless in this city, stateless in the Jungle at Calais or dying on the killing fields of Syria. Place Jesus in a refugee camp on the border of Croatia, among the displaced inhabitants of Fallujah or on an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean and the perspectives sharpen uncomfortably. ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.’ How seriously do we take Christ’s words?
We don’t have to be refugees or homeless, either, to empathise with Jesus in expressing his sense of displacement. Ex-pat Brits living in Spain, people who voted ‘Remain’ and treasure their European roots, long term migrants living here…… as a result of the referendum vote many of these will be experiencing identity loss – who am I? Where do I belong? ‘No longer at ease in the old dispensations.’ Those words belong to T.S. Eliot’s Magi after they had visited the stable, when their lives too had irrevocably changed. A phrase we often use here at the Cathedral is ‘new normal’, except that there is really never a fixed new normal, but an ongoing journey with signposts along the way. Identity has been a defining referendum issue and it still remains key in shaping the future.
Eliot goes on to say, ‘with an alien people clutching their gods’. Who for us are the aliens? During the campaign we’ve heard some distasteful rhetoric around that subject. However for those who feel disenfranchised, I’d put, sadly, politicians as aliens, proclaiming half-truths and clutching rusty ideologies which have little connection with lives of struggle and pain. I suspect many of us would have at least partial sympathy with that, especially if this country now becomes engulfed in leadership rows more about personal agendas than the common good. Few involved in it have come out of the referendum campaign well; and there have been some downright unethical shabby moments on both sides, leaving our society, apart from a few triumphalists, uncertain and deeply divided. If ever we needed our political system to work together unselfishly to transcend traditional rivalries, we need it now.
Jesus is uncompromising – no time to say farewell or bury the dead. His business is urgent. And it’s our business as the Church – part of his body on earth – to pick up on the defining issues of our times. Our political debate too easily degenerates into what’s in it for me. But if we feel detached or cushioned take a look out of the window when it’s raining, like it has this week, look at the volatility of financial markets, the posturing of nations, the scale of global migration and we quickly realise our bubbles of security are illusions. And that’s just us in our relative comfort. Even those of us in later life should not, as Christians, take the view that these things are not our worry: if our faith is serious then our concerns should be way beyond the personal. Given that we are far from the Kingdom being a reality here on earth, if things feel comfortable then we’re not sufficiently in touch with God. How much are we really aching with God over the pains of God’s people and world? Christ was angry and wept: where is our lament and anger? Weeping and anger go hand in hand with unrest: appropriating words from Robert Frost, ‘We have miles to go before we sleep’. And promises to keep.’ ‘The Son of Man has no place to lay his head’ – neither have we as his followers if we are to keep our promises to God.
So let’s not get too cosy. Consider the Hebrew metaphor of the tent in which a nomadic people journeys with God, pitching it for a while and then moving on. Try that on for size: when have you struck and re-pitched your tent? (Please don’t sit there and think, ‘Well – I’ve never moved out of my village’, because although a physical move inevitably shifts the parameters of life, it is possible to be highly nomadic in faith and life terms, while rooted in one location. I know that.) Now apply the metaphor to us as community. This building is our tent: clearly no long-term physical move; but we are unpegging bits of it to reshape ourselves, both literally and metaphorically. The Cathedral – building and community – is different from that 1920s defining moment in its history, and it will be different again, both in and after our lifetimes. PMC, Leicester Cathedral Revealed and our strategic plan are all part of this process. Which I hope we are doing hand in hand with God.
These highly charged times after the referendum are a tent-moving moment. The Dean posted these words on the website, ‘The direction is set. A new vision of our community will need to be created. Leicester Cathedral and all our churches can help build unity and common purpose at a time of uncertainty.’ Our Archbishops have written of, in the aftermath of a vigorous and hurtful referendum campaign, the need for humility, courage, hope and generosity. Community lies at the heart of the Church of England – in its DNA – and this country needs, particularly in these anxious transition times, both a renewed sense of community in diversity, and the means to achieve this. We, Church, are particularly placed to offer some of the ingredients – reflective space, companionship, hospitality, acceptance – all of these and many more, both in physical and metaphorical senses- while exercising a prayerful and prophetic ministry where things may be spoken of and difficult places explored. We are not called to be party political, but we can never be neutral in our concern for the vulnerable and for our world; and we can be peacemakers. What is Christ saying to us here, in this Cathedral, in this City, in this County today?
Our Gospel reading also tells of a Samaritan village where Jesus was not welcome and which he walked away from. Let’s not be too quick to draw parallels with the EU, and let’s avoid a xenophobic interpretation. While the disciples are vindictive in mood, Jesus is not, nor is he angry at the village. However he still leaves the village to its own devices. That sits somewhat uneasily with an inclusive view of the Gospel but, as with other Gospel cameos and in the parables, we can see Jesus understanding the importance of time and place – that ears and minds can be closed to even the best of news – they’re not ready so move on. Contextualisation is a familiar word in my social action world, despite huge desire and energy for change. Many of the major European issues stumble on the fact that nations have, and have had, different trajectories, causing shouting but not hearing. And my good news is not always yours. I think the Church has prophetic wisdom to offer here, both in fanning the flames of more nuanced approaches to the big issues of our time and in promoting self-giving values as outlined in our Galatians reading, which we do not have a monopoly on, but ought to be practicing in bucket-loads, and leading by example.
So let us leave this place prayerfully and humbly energised to walk alongside those fearful of the future, to support those who are most vulnerable particularly as our political landscape changes, to build bridges which promote reconciliation and collaboration and to encourage, affirm and assist politicians, civil servants and civic leaders in the ways of wisdom and in the furtherance of genuine community. We can all do some of that. Collectively we can do a great deal. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head: let’s ensure we are travelling with him, and not holed up somewhere.
Alison M Adams
Canon Pastor & Sub-Dean