Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Homily for St Elisabeths (9-7-2014)

The other day in Manchester, on Market Street was one of these Evangelical preachers. You know the type, with a sandwich board and little handouts, haranguing everyone. Apparently we’re all off to “hell” in a handcart unless we repent. Of or from what I’m not sure but everyone other than this preacher and members of his church are off to hell.

To be honest, if there are such places as heaven and hell, I think the more interesting people would be in hell. Winston Churchill famously said he’d rather not to go to heaven if it were full of people like Keir Hardie.

What really stuck in my throat was the condemnation by this preacher of other faiths and especially of the amazing ‘Berlin House of One’ – that interfaith house of worship for Christians, Muslims and Jews. A centre of worship, of tolerance, of love.

And it struck me this morning how at odds this preacher was with what Jesus said.

In this reading from Matthew’s Gospel Jesus didn’t send out the Apostles to convert the Gentiles or the Samaritans (the religion not the wonderful organisation). He told his followers to go and find the ‘lost sheep’ and tell them the good news that heaven is at hand. In fact, a little bit later on, Jesus tells his followers that the ‘kingdom of heaven is within you.’

When Jesus preached his first sermon he did so from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring the good news to the oppressed; bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to release the prisoners.

But, hang on a minute. That's not how this piece of Isaiah ends. Isaiah 61:2 actually says: 'to proclaim a day of vengeance from our God.' Jesus skips the last line because he isn’t here to announce vengeance. He has a completely different message, and thus critiques his own scriptures. What is his message about then? Love! love not vengeance!

Isaac Pennington, an early member of the Quaker Religion put it like this:

And now this is my desire and prayer to the Lord, and the travail of my soul in his life and spirit; even that those are yet scattered from the fold of rest, that the residue of the sheep of the house of Israel that are as yet lost, as yet scattered up and down in their own apprehensions, conceivings… may be gathered out of all these into the same life, power, and fold of rest, into which God has pleased of his great mercy and tender goodness to gather us.’

To cross over narrow societal barriers and to reach out with love; to touch the untouchables. To go to the lost; the rejected; the lonely; the unloved and the unlovable. And to welcome them home as part of our universal human family. To offer, above all, love.

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