Proper 8 (C) – 26 June 2016

sermon preached at St Mungo’s Alexandria

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

I wonder how you are feeling this morning?  It has been a momentous week, and some of you, some of us, may be feeling quite vulnerable, distressed.  Others may be greeting a new future for which you have profoundly wished.  I expect all of us are wondering what the future brings, and how the political situation will now develop: here in Scotland, in Westminster, across the EU.  It will be a time of change, and change, especially this kind of radical systemic change, is both difficult to manage and difficult to be on the receiving end of.  We are entering a period of negotiations which will change relationships in Europe, in world, and within the UK.

There is a lot of anxiety about this, and that is not at all surprising.  But what I think is important is that in the uncertainty and anxiety we do not lose hope.  And so I want to offer some reflections from today’s readings  and from other reading I have been doing this week which might say something to us about moving forward in hope.

Of course, we are not the first people to find ourselves standing at a cusp, looking into an unknown future.  One of my favourite passages is something we often hear at New Year, but it seems very apposite this week:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than the light
And safer than a known way!”
So I went forth and finding the hand of God
Trod gladly into the light.

Perhaps those steps into the future are not being taken gladly by some of us, but we nonetheless need to have hope and faith that as we take them, our hand is in the hand of God.

I am guessing that I was not the only one to find myself thinking apocalyptic thoughts on Friday.  Wondering whether this was the way people were feeling in Germany on 31 January 1933, or in Britain on 5 August 1914, or on 4 September 1939.  But then I began to realise what this is not: this is not the takeover of power by militarised fascism; it is not war.  It is a step which might, if we do not find it in ourselves as a country, as citizens, to respond responsibly, lead to something worse, but this is not Armageddon.  What I would want to say to all of us, regardless of how we voted, is that it is now our responsibility to make out of this an opportunity and not a threat.  Those of us who would have preferred to remain in the EU might ponder Frances Copley’s prayer:  “May we discover that the road we didn’t choose, didn’t want to travel, is a highway that leads unerringly towards the light.”

In the run up to the centenary of the Women’s Peace Crusade in Glasgow on 23 July 1916, which will be marked on Saturday 23 July 2016,[1] I have this week been reading the works of Maud Royden, an early campaigner for the ordination of women who during the First World War was also a strong advocate of peace.  In 1916, in the middle of that war, when the outcome was entirely uncertain, she wrote a pamphlet entitled: The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace.  In it, she wrote:  “You cannot kill hatred and violence by violence and hatred.  You cannot make men out of love with war by making more effective war.”  And, she went on:  “Truth is more than victory.  We cannot tell whether defeat or triumph is better for a nation, or whose success upon the battlefield is better for the world.” [2]  The future is open, and it does not have be – it must not be – full of despair.

The Primus has written to the Scottish Episcopal Church:

The people have spoken and the will of the people must be respected.
In a hard-fought and at times bruising campaign, it has been clear that debate about Europe has allowed a number of difficult issues to come to the surface. The debate and the patterns of voting suggest that our politicians in recent years may not have paid sufficient attention to some of the deeper issues which are present in our life. The inevitable and necessary period of reflection which must now follow will allow space for questions of poverty and immigration to be explored.
Those of us who live in Scotland are aware that the outcome of the Referendum is potentially of great significance. We hope that our politicians on all sides will take time for careful reflection and consultation.
This a time when we should hold all of our political leaders in our prayers.[3]

I would want to put that even more strongly:  “The inevitable and necessary period of reflection which will now follow must allow space for questions of poverty and immigration to be explored.”  Here is Paul speaking to the Galatians in the reading we have just heard:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

That is, as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said:

we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.[4]

We are called to freedom, and in that freedom to love of neighbour.  There are many political structures and constellations in which that is possible.  What can we do to support a political discourse that takes seriously the importance of loving our neighbour?  How can we engage with one another in ways that show respect and love?

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than the light
And safer than a known way!”
So I went forth and finding the hand of God
Trod [gladly] into the light.

Amen

 

 

 

[1]    http://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/forward-remembering-women-peace-crusaders-launch-event/.

[2]    Maud Royden, The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace (London 1916 [?]), pp. 11, 16.

[3]    At http://www.scotland.anglican.org/primus-comments-outcome-eu-referendum/#sthash.g37bsEMS.dpuf.

[4]    At http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5743/eu-referendum-statement-by-archbishops-of-canterbury-and-york.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]    http://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/forward-remembering-women-peace-crusaders-launch-event/.

[2]    Maud Royden, The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace (London 1916 [?]), pp. 11, 16.

[3]    At http://www.scotland.anglican.org/primus-comments-outcome-eu-referendum/#sthash.g37bsEMS.dpuf.

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