This sermon was given at our Evensong service on July 2nd 2017. The New Testament reading was Luke 17:20-37.
I had half a mind today to preach a sermon about Grenfell Tower tonight; a proper, Old Testament-style sermon, full of anger and judgement, proclaiming:
“Woe unto you, you pen-pushers and bureaucrats, who value money and cost-efficiency more than life – or, at the least, the life of others.Woe unto you, you hypocrites, who would rather cover the poor with a flammable veneer than have to look at the cost that your comfortable lifestyle has upon those around you, let alone have to deal with the mess your money leaves in its wake.Woe unto you, you authorities and law-makers, who bow and fawn to the whim and every wish of big business, refusing to pass laws that would ensure landlords bear the smallestounce of responsibility in ensuring their tenants live in buildings fit for human habitation.And woe to you, you landlords, who exploit the vulnerable and trap them in homes that we would not allow dogs to live in.”
It would be a blistering sermon.
It would be a truthful sermon.
It would be a justified sermon.
But it would have no hope.
Hope. It has been an awful year, hasn’t it? From the start of the year, marked by Trump’s entry into the Whitehouse, we’ve had the continuation of the migrant crisis, escalating religious, racial and political conflict around the world, the rise of a new far right movement within Europe, a renewed persecution of homosexuality across the world, Nuclear testing in North Korea, allegations of Russian interference in Western elections, and terrorist attacks across the world, notably in Egypt, in Paris, London and here in our city of Manchester. And, of course, the awful, tragic events at Grenfell Tower, and, for us here at St Michael’s, the sudden loss of Huw’s wife, Natalie.
Have you written this year off already? Can’t wait for the end of 2017, and the start of 2018? A new beginning, and some fresh hope?
There’s a reason I’m giving this sermon today, the 2nd July. Today – well, just about 6 hours ago to be exact – is the midpoint of the year. We’re bang on half-way through 2017. There’s just as much 2017 left as we’ve already had. There’s much that’s happened already this year, but there’s just as much still to happen.
|July 2nd - the midpoint of the year|
There are two ways to look at that – either we could despair and fear the worst about what’s to come; or we could allow ourselves to hope; to look for the glimpses of light and good as we travel into the latter half of the year.
There are reasons to hope. Although the aforementioned European racist parties may have dominated our news and media throughout the first half of 2017, not one of them has gained power in their countries – people have rejected their ugly ideologies. Although many countries are persecuting homosexuality, many others are passing laws to ensure marriage is an equal right allowed to all, regardless of sexuality. The terrorist attacks that aimed to spread fear and discord have, instead, led to communities coming together, to hope-filled concerts, and tattoos embracing our communal identity. And within the past week, the relatives of those killed in the Hillsborough disaster have heard – at long last –that criminal prosecutions of those accused to be at fault are to take place, finally putting to bed any fears that a whitewash may yet take place.
Even here, in our parish, there are signs of hope. Last week, our own Reverend Fi was ordained as priest, having completed her training and Deacon year. Next week, we play co-host to the fourth annual Flixton Folk Festival, a celebration of our community organised by the churches in the area, and presented, as a gift to the people of Flixton, Urmston and Davyhulme.
But for us, our main reason to hope is Christ himself. For Christ brings hope where none seems to be found. We may see in the media, tales of only hatred, fear and despair, but Christ changes the story. He comes to a world lost in its own narrative of selfishness and sin, and rips those pages out, taking our pen, and rewriting the ending with us; rewriting it with grace and love, with freedom and hope.
And so, my sermon is not preaching judgement, however deserved, on those responsible for the Grenfell disaster. My sermon is hope; hope that this tragedy will prevent further tragedies of this nature; hope that it will lead to a change in our housing laws; hope that it will lead to a change in the heart of our society; hope that, in six months’ time, come the celebrations of the turning of the year, we will be able to look back at 2017 and see good done in the world, see a world improved by the presence of the kingdom of God and the presence of Christ, amongst his people.
It starts, of course, with us. A quote, often attributed to Gandhi, encourages us to “be the change you want to see in the world”. To do that, you first need to hope; to have some faith that – with God beside and alongside you, and the kingdom of God within us – the things you do can make a difference in our society. Society won’t change itself.
There’s half a year left. Let’s find some hope in it.