Joining with Jesus to reach out to the world, Mark Ward, Easter Day 2016, Woodgreen
If you were in St Mary’s Fordingbridge for Christmas Eve midnight mass you heard me ask this question – so why are you here? Why are any of us here? Why are we not out there enjoying the third of a four day bank holiday weekend with friends and family maybe walking, or having a lazy morning in bed with Easter Eggs or maybe on holiday somewhere? I don’t know about you but this is my 10th visit to church in the last 8 days and I’ve missed at least 3 opportunities, – so what?
Last Saturday I was at Diocesan Synod, so I suppose I could add that to my tally. I listened to Bishop Graham Cray, the former Bishop of Maidstone who said among many other gems: “we join with Jesus as he worships the Father” and “we join with Jesus as he reaches out to the world”, “we join with Jesus as he worships the Father and we join with Jesus as he reaches out to the world”.
Well I for one and no doubt many of you have joined with Jesus to worship the Father, so I can tick that box but what about the second one – have I reached out with Jesus to the world?
Richard Rohr is a contemporary theologian and quite a few of the ministry team read his daily reflections that wing their way to us by email. Rohr has a theory that, first in Judaism, and then in Jesus, and following on from Jesus we have what he calls “a bias to the bottom”.
In her 90th year it would seem that we are going to celebrate the Queen endlessly. I should say at this time I am not against the royal family, I think on balance they have been an asset to this country, but I see posters “clear up for the Queen” and the Church of England , especially the Diocese of Winchester seems to be getting very excited about celebrating her birthday – and for that matter – why not, good on her, she should have had at least 20 year of doing exactly what she wants to do by now instead of continually having to open things and visit places she probably has no interest in whatsoever. And I suppose there is something much more symbolic about this “clean up” but here’s the thing – what does it mean to us – to you and to me – what will we gain from it, how will we end up better people from it?
If you think I have forgotten it is Easter Day please bear with me for a little longer.
What does “bias to the bottom” mean? Let’s take a trip back to Moses, a shepherd looking after his uncle’s sheep. Moses encountered God in a burning bush and God told him he had to look after the people of Israel. Moses was at the bottom, from the bottom, he was no king. King David too was also a shepherd and something of a waster in his youth, we might have seen him as a troublemaker in a hoodie.
And Jesus – well he was born to a poor woman and a poor man, he lived as a carpenter in a small dwelling amongst others whose one aim was to put bread on the table.
I want to take you to Ireland now, it’s 1845 and there is a famine which lasts for 3 years, 1845, 1846, 1847. The people are starving and the absentee government from across the water doesn’t care. – The result, a new movement to try to rid the Irish of the English which at Easter 1916 rose up for one week from Easter Monday, 24th April during which 500 people died, 2600 were wounded and 1800 ended up in British internment camps – from then on until 2005 there was armed struggle in Ireland – the bottom had spoken. The problem was that the bottom had not been recognised as needing help many, many years before, long before the masses became political, for in 1845 they were simply hungry, or more to the point starving. What they needed was a Moses or a David or a Jesus. What they got was war.
So here are we in 2016, 100 years after that rising in Ireland and what surrounds us – refugees – well actually they don’t because we have been keeping them out using the same small strip of water that saved us twice in the last century, as a barrier, and we are not alone – barriers, physical ones have gone up all over Europe. We might argue it is necessary to stop us being flooded with people who seem to think that Britain, more than anywhere else in the world is the Promised Land. We might argue that we already have too many Poles, Estonians, Latvians and others from the EU. But who are we to claim that this is ours just through an accident of our birth?
Which, you will be pleased to learn brings me back to today, Easter Day. Today we are right to celebrate, for today sin is overcome, today liberty is proclaimed, the bitterness of two days ago is gone replaced by hope and joy, made all the better by chocolate.
But – there – you knew I couldn’t leave it alone for more than two lines didn’t you – but it has to mean something in practical terms. Let me quote you a verse or two I often quote from a gem of a little book in the bible, almost at the end, the book of James. We can’t tie down who exactly James was but he has been called over many years “James the Just”. Chapter 2 and verse 14 “My brothers, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith if his actions do not prove it? Can that faith save him? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in you saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.”
So I come back to where I began, and the very good Bishop Cray – we accompany Jesus and join with him to worship the father, tick in the box, and we join with Jesus as he reaches out to the world? – really, honestly and truthfully, tick in the box – maybe not? Remember those verses from James the Just – So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.”
Do we have Jesus “bias to the bottom”? I’m tempted to say “no”. Yes we put a few items in the box at the back for the foodbank, and thank you for that, yes we put money in the Christian Aid envelope and no doubt we support other charities that support the poor amongst us – but, have we lost that connection – the real connection with the bottom, or maybe we have never been connected, or perhaps we have escaped it and never want to go there again.
Well – you might say – Mark you are a woolly liberal, let’s do as you suggest, let’s let them all in and wreck the health service and see crime rise and racial tensions, and people doing things that their culture accepts but ours doesn’t. Let’s risk our safety and downgrade our community, let’s see thousands wiped off our property values, and then we can come and say to you – “where did that get us?”
Well if all we do is let them in then I agree with you, it will get us nowhere – for the point is this – we have to join with Jesus and reach out to the world. Today is the perfect day for us to decide to do that. We of course have to decide what we will do but “James the Just” tells us that we have to take action – ah well he wrote that a long time ago – so what? – so what, it is in our bible and the people who are at the bottom still exist, that’s so what.
“Fine words” – I hear you say, but what can we do? We are just ordinary Joes and Josephines. Well I have news for you, so was Abraham, so was Jacob, so was David, Mary, Rahab the prostitute, Moses. Until Jesus came along and since he was taken from us it has been ordinary people who have led the charge, not kings or queens.
Let me tell you a story and let’s see who can guess who this person is:
He was born on 17 December 1936 in Buenos Aires. He was the eldest of five children born to an Italian immigrant accountant born in in Italy’s Piedmont region; and an Argentinian mother. His father’s family left Italy in 1929, to escape the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini. Before joining the Jesuits he worked as a bar bouncer and as a janitor sweeping floors. In the only known health crisis of his youth, at the age of 21 he suffered from life-threatening pneumonia and three cysts. He had part of a lung excised shortly afterwards.
Are you with me yet – yes the night-club bouncer is now the most holy pontiff of the Catholic faith – Pope Francis. As I have said before – a man who when he learned he was pope made sure he sent his friend the money he owed him for his newspaper bill, refused to move into the palatial apartment assigned to the Pope, refused the red silk shoes, and who drove around in America in a Fiat 500. But he has done much more than this, he has kissed the feet of prisoners, he sold his Harley Davidson to raise money to start a soup kitchen in Rome, he regularly leaves the Vatican to be with the poor, and personally rang and spoke to a rape victim, and a small boy who evaded the security during a huge mass, he put on his throne and invited him to stay there for the rest of the mass. He doesn’t need to do any of this but he shows us what it is to give “the necessities of life” as “James the Just” said. All the things the Pope has done we can do, none of them are extra-ordinary in themselves.
So here is our chance today – we have been freed from our sin, we have been given a new chance, our slate was wiped clean on Friday but it will start to gain a negative list on it again if all we do is carry on as we have before. Will you do something? I have one real question for you today and it’s one I am going to come back to throughout the year so you won’t escape as you walk out the door today– what will you do this year to join Jesus as he reaches out to the world? For if you don’t, if I don’t, then there is absolutely no point in coming here. I don’t want to end on a negative, so I wish you all a very Happy Easter and when you leave please take with you a small box of Lindt chocolates from my friends at Lindt who very kindly donated some after dinner chocolates to an event I was running and someone couldn’t count. And if you think that you are taking chocolate from those who the foodbank serves, panic not, they sent us 35 pallets of chocolate this week, so there is plenty for all. Amen.