I think I have preached what felt like one of the hardest sermons I have ever preached, and I must admit that I have preached my way through some tough personal times and to churches that have been facing hurdles and hard questions. I have preached fairly political sermons as elections and other decisions both national and global have loomed, I am passionate about justice and the inclusion of all, but today was tough.
It was tough as I faced my lovely good hearted congregation knowing that there was a roughly 50/ 50 split in the way that they had voted in the referendum , most had done so thoughtfully and because they truly believed that they were voting for the right thing, and I had no right to castigate or challenge any of them, and I was certainly not going to use the moment to climb upon my own political soap box.
Everyone knew my view, I voted for the United Kingdom to remain in the EU, and I would do so again, so how then did I preach? First I stuck to the Lectionary, focusing on the reading from Luke, and also the reading from Galatians.
I must admit that as I stood to speak I could appreciate the feelings that Adele voiced when she began her set at Glastonbury last night, facing the crowd after her first song she said openly “I’ll just have to go straight into another one (song) my darlings, cos I don’t know what to say to you yet.”
“I don’t know what to say to you”, this morning those were my first words too, for what do you say to a congregation who could be deeply divided, and yet they weren’t, in fact I think if asked they would all express surprise about how the folk sat next to them had voted, revealing perhaps the uneasy truth that perhaps we don’t know one another very well. This is an issue that I have heard voiced by commentators and individuals and even one or two polititians, how can it be that we live in such a divided land, and where do we move forward from here.
I suggested to the gathered congregation that the way forward is to set our faces towards truth and justice and towards flourishing for all, we must, as I said in a previous blog post, seek to build bridges rather than seeeking to defend our positions especially when it comes to considering the way forward now. I had to acknowledge that some people were feeling deeply upset and shocked, but in truth as I surveyed the faces this morning that seemed to be the state for all, for as the news following the Brexit result began to emerge some of those who voted out were feeling as shocked and betrayed as those who voted remain.
There is no point in covering up a truth, people who in good faith had thought they were voting to save the NHS, or for a better economy had been betrayed by the campaign leaders who had openly lied to them! Betrayal and rejection are hard pills to swallow when you have made a decision in good faith.
So what then as Christian disciples should our response be? How do we set our faces towards justice and truth, and where do we go from here? Just as Jesus was rejected by the Samaritan villagers we have to understand that we have been betrayed by our leaders, from both the Remain and Leave camps, insufficient evidence was offered, and sadly the Remain Campaign had not offered the facts in a way that was easily understood by many voters, and the Leave Campaign is now furiously back peddling to retract some of the outrageous promises of prosperity and peace. The truth that the austerity measures were not the fault of the EU, but implemented by the Government themselves seemed to escape many people. So perhaps our first challenge is to seek for the truth, a truth that lies beyond our divisions, a truth that will call us to make personal sacrifices of ego and of personal comfort, we must become truth tellers, and truth seekers, the awful rise of racism and abuse that has accompanied the campaign cannot be overlooked, and when we see incidents increasing after the results are in surely we must take a stand and say NO, NO, this is not right! Reports are coming in from all over the country of abuses and racist incidents, of people being told to pack and go home…. how can we be proud to be British in days like these?
Together we must become peacemakers, calling down fire bolts from heaven to consume those who had rejected them was not an option for Jesus, and while me must not negate our own feelings of furstration we must not act upon them unless we can turn them to good. We can use them to speak out, to uncover uncomfortable truths and facts and then act upon them for justice and peace.
Together we must become those who follow the path of love in a deeper way, looking to love one another and also the foreigners among us, and the strangers at our gates. We have been included in the deep love of God in Chirst, and we must at all costs keep the door of love open, remembering that, that love drove Jesus to set his face towards Jerusalem and the cross.
Together we must become those who live by the Spirit, acknowledging that we are not our own ( for Methodists the Covenant prayer is key here), that when we are called to put our hand to the plough we must not look back to our own greed and desires but be willing to lay them aside. A friend wrote a brilliant reflection on the story of Jacob and Esau asking if perhaps “we have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage” , that maybe some had been duped into being concerned with their own needs and desires over the common good. I wonder if we even know what the common good is; to live by the Spirit means becoming people of love, and not a love that is soft or sappy, for that is a parody of the love that gave all for ALL!
Together we must become peole of deep prayer, a prayer that drives us to action, and action that drives us to more prayer as we seek the way forward. Our focus and our centre must be the godly values and ways that are so often missing in this world, and even in the church. Perhaps more than anything we must seek to understand Jesus call to us and how we are to relate to one another, our communities, our country and the world, so I leave you with Scripture, quoting Matthew 5:13-16 from The Message Version
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Finally a caveat to all of this, I know that many folk took time to look carefully into the reasons for the decision to leave/ remain. I am not suggesting at all that we have been ignorant or blind, but that we are as a nation in a state of shock. Change is shocking, and I believe that we have voted for a shocking change. How we now move forward is key.
Sally, you say your congregation would be split about 50/50, that is very different from the Blackpool result which was nearly 70/30 to leave. Do you have evidence for this difference and if so how do you account for it. Can’t say that I have seen any discrepancy between my folk and the people around. (And I certainly wouldn’t say the the clergy whose views I know tended more to Remain than the populace – although interestingly the clergy age profile seems opposite to what is being reported for the country).
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Hi Simon, yes I can, this particular congregation is unusual in many ways, and while the other congregation I serve is much more representative of the 70/30 split there are a number of reasons why this one is not. It is drawn from a wider geographic area than Blackpool itself and often in response to the Social issues that the town itself faces. Interstingly while many folk we serve were probably for Leave, the congregation itself tended to buck although only slightly the trend in the town. I k now this quite simply through knowing people, some of out older folk also bucked the trend by voting Remain rather than Leave which again is an anomaly according to the statistics. Blackpool is an interesting place both socially, economically and spiritually. A number of people are drawn here and would express a specific left wing desire to serve others who are drawn here to chase the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Just to add, I have had a number of conversations with people surrounding this
Interesting. I don’t see much of an issue with immigration here (though I am still getting to know the place). Perhaps where that is more of an issue, and that inflated the ‘leave’ vote, there will be more disparity between the churched and non-churched – at least I hope so.
Sunday Mass attendances at parishes in this diocese can be as high as 5000 and probably average around 1000, so you don’t get the opportunity to get to know people’s views in detail!