A sermon preached by Mark Ward in Fordingbridge, evensong 26th June 2016 – rejection and acceptance.
Clearly the theme this evening is about being rejected. The Genesis passage is about so much more as well, deception, ambition, choosing a favourite over another and also acceptance that what is done is done on the one hand from Isaac but a declaration of vengeance from Esau who has been wronged. Jesus on the other hand seems to have had it rather easy, people simply didn’t believe who he was, at least his whole life and existence wasn’t wrecked by treachery as was Jacob and Esau’s. That said Jesus must have been very hurt that his own loved him not as we repeat often. I wonder what David Cameron is really thinking about what “we” have done to him or about what his “friends” have done to him. He is very fortunate if he can be pragmatic.
I don’t know why but somehow it seems easier to reject than accept. I was on a train recently, it’s something I do a lot these days unfortunately, not for pleasure, but I was on the train which pulled into Basingstoke station and just after the train stopped we could hear banging on the door and then someone charging down the carriage shouting, “I need a seat”, and as soon as he found one he crashed down into it and made a very loud comment about how “expletive” hot it was. Doubtless the whole carriage shrunk back a bit and the person sitting in the window seat next to him started to worry what might happen next. What did happen next was that he got his earphones out, plugged them into his phone and put some music on and proceeded to read a copy of the Evening Standard he found and never said another word. I’m guessing he had a form of autism which makes his social skills poor, but really that was it but I doubt I was the only one showing renewed interest in my Evening Standard which I’d already read. Sad to report though that most of us, at least in our minds, rejected that young man, when maybe we should have asked him if he was having a good day.
How many families fall apart when one person does something that is seen as unacceptable? We see the result in our towns and cities and occasionally around us here as those who live outside our society pass through, living rough, perhaps unpleasantly smelly but the best we achieve is to tolerate them, maybe send them to the vicarage for a sandwich and hope they will move on. That’s not entirely loving is it? I’m sure many of them have settled to this life but did they really choose it and should we reach out to them to see if they need more from us to help them cope or maybe even to give them other options? But it would cost us, it might even put us in danger and it certainly would put a nasty ring round the bath but if we don’t try are we loving our neighbour?
Or we reject the person who chooses a different lifestyle to ours; maybe we think they shouldn’t have chosen that path. We are much more tolerant as a society now – when I say tolerant, I simply mean of difference, I’m not being judgemental of other lifestyles, I’m simply saying we have moved on and whilst people may live in ways you or I might not, we now accept that their solution is acceptable too – whether it is living together outside marriage, living in a gay relationship, living in the skin you feel comfortable with rather than necessarily the one you were born into. Yet faced with such a situation person to person are we so easy going? When you meet someone and then their same sex partner is introduced to you – what goes through your mind? When the person you last met as a man now sits in church dressed as a woman does that challenge you? We may not go as far as rejection but perhaps we fail to engage as fully as we might. Or what about the person we know has been to prison, not for conscience but for crime?
Jesus took the pragmatic route when he was rejected, he said, well ok they don’t want to know me, so he reached out to their own rejected and healed some of them and moved on because he knew he could use his time better elsewhere. But not everyone can do that can they. If you are gay, you are gay, if you are black you are black, if you are transgender or in the wrong skin, you can’t change it and if you have been to prison, you have been to prison. And here’s the rub, that means we have to deal with it. Jesus was able to take it on the chin but many who are rejected can’t drive the change – it’s those of us who feel threatened by the situation that have to change.
For some that might be utter acceptance or it might mean being able to accept that something is different than we believe and we should not judge, even if we can’t get right round to being comfortable.
Not too long ago there was a furore about Canon Jeremy Davies who was for many years a senior cleric at Salisbury Cathedral and who now lives in this diocese with his male partner of more than 25 years. Jeremy was and is much loved by those who have known him for a long time, and after he moved he was taking some services in this diocese and in our Cathedral. But the powers that be have decided that he, having now been married under English Law, has stepped outside what is acceptable for a practicing clergyman in the Church of England and he has been asked to desist from officiating.
The church no longer condemns his sexuality as it did not so long ago but it cannot bless his union which sustains him, which has sustained him for 25 years during which he was allowed to officiate. Now there are at least two arguments here aren’t there – the bible says there can be no union between two men or two women being one, and the world has changed being the other. Depending on our view we will tend to one or the other and it is incredibly difficult to suggest the church is at fault for following its own book of words, but again it is a book which sees slavery as acceptable. So perhaps we do have to accept that things change, life moves on and the real rule we must live by is to love one another and accept our differences. Rejection should perhaps be something consigned to the past.
There will be times we do have to make people accept conditions whilst accepting them. Those who have committed serious crimes may need to be kept at a distance from certain vulnerable groups but that shouldn’t mean out and out rejection, yet it often does. Indeed it has gone further when innocent people have been mistakenly identified as particular types of offender and dealt mob justice sometimes at the cost of their lives.
Maybe the place to start is – “how would I feel if I was ostracized”.
When I wrote this I didn’t know if we were still “in” or now “out”. There are some who won and others who lost. It hasn’t been a very pleasant fight has it, despite assurances that everyone would behave like adults, and it never surprises me that the party which holds itself up to be full or the good and the proper manages to sink to gouging eyes out, not of its opponents, but of its own side because it can’t tolerate difference – it isn’t the broad church it says it is. What will become of the losers, cast to the dustbin of political history no doubt, simply for holding a different view, talents wasted, public money wasted and views entrenched. Is that really a way to teach our children? I think not. That isn’t to say we can’t decide what we believe to be right, that we can’t say it out loud, of course we can, but where it is a simple matter of two opposing views neither of which can easily be proven, surely we should be able to have the debate and move on, the victors being the most gracious if necessary.
Intolerance breeds dissent, dissent breeds extreme behaviours and extreme behaviours result in conflict, we don’t have to look back very far to see the result of that.
And of course we have to divorce the issue from the people involved some times. I’d be the first to say that this country can only cope with so many people but I don’t believe we should castigate anyone who has come here legitimately. I also accept that sometimes we will need to accept others here who by their presence may threaten our stability, if the alternative is leaving them at the mercy of a despot. But what has been done legitimately has been done, and we should still welcome those who come to us. I was at the surgery a few weeks ago making an attempt to see a doctor, not my own, because I hadn’t managed to predict my illness six weeks earlier, but I had managed to get an appointment, and as I sat there counting the minutes following the time I should have been seen, the names of patients came up on the board. Two of the four I saw had surnames I could not pronounce, obviously from somewhere in Eastern Europe. What should my reaction have been – we shouldn’t have let them in, or, I’m glad they have managed to find a stable and safe home and it only sot me ten minutes of my time? Of course – the latter.
Esau had no choice but to accept under the law that Isaac had blessed his brother in error, due to the diabolical actions of his brother and mother. He struggled and he failed before finally realising that losing his brother was the worst of all options and he had to be the big one, even though he was wronged.
Sometimes we need to look past the situation and to the person and accept that we will have to make the move, that we will be the ones who may suffer, that getting the tide mark off the bath might cost us dear and in fact we may never entirely remove it yet we will have done something far better – we will have loved someone as we have been asked to do. The more we love, the less rejection there can be, the more we love as the church, the more relevant we are. I know I am biased but one of the things that has made the church relevant in the past few years has been the way it has supported those who go hungry. Are they here now – no, but have we become a more outwardly caring organisation – I believe we have, but we have taken just the first step. If we want to be relevant, if we want to have to hutch up to get everyone in, then we have to show love to everyone we meet and grit our teeth lest we be tempted to judge – and we have to move on and deal with what the real reality is.