Saturday, 12 September 2009

September 13th sermon

Racial Justice (Mark 8: 27-38, Isaiah 50: 4-9a)

You might wonder why we need to bother with racial justice Sunday, here in leafy Whittlesford. But I honestly think that as Christians we all have a responsibility towards understanding other people and challenging those aspects of our society which, sadly, are still racist.

A few years ago, when I was living in Oxfordshire a member of my church was hosting a young man from the Gambia, Isaac, who had come to the town to have an artificial leg fitted. He had lost his leg when he had broken it playing football and an infection had set in. While he was waiting for the leg to be made after an initial fitting, he used his time to learn about provisions for teaching blind children in the UK – because he was a teacher of blind children back home. He was fascinated by the gadgets available for teaching blind and partially-sighted children and very quickly worked out how he could make those things simply and cheaply for his pupils. But he didn’t like going out into town: not because it was hard to get about with one leg & a crutch – he could run up & down stairs faster than I can – but because people stared at him… because he was black. He felt excluded, unwelcome, a stranger in a strange land. I wonder how he would have felt in Whittlesford?

Wherever we are, the people of God are called to welcome the stranger, to fight injustice and to stand up for the marginalised.
We are called to be messengers who proclaim God’s good news of love and acceptance for all.

We have heard the words of Isaiah about one chosen to be a messenger, one who hears the word of God and has the gift to deliver it, one who will submit to suffering at the hands of people, because he knows that God is his helper and defender. It is hard to hear those words without thinking of Jesus: the chosen of God.

When Jesus asks ‘Who do you say I am’, Peter is quick to answer ‘the Messiah’ In other words, the one who is anointed – chosen by God to be the saviour of God’s people.
Jesus goes on to say ‘anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self.. and follow me’. Jesus is for anyone and everyone who will follow – not to save their own skin but to serve God and others.

At the heart of Jesus’ identity is the desire to reconcile the whole world to God – this is good news for each one of us here.
But it isn’t Good News we can be selfish about - because when we recognise who Christ is we must also follow Christ in loving others – and so be reconciled to those who are different from us. We need to remember that Jesus, who was so different from us: a Galilean, a Jew, a speaker of Aramaic – is the Christ who makes us all one in him.

It isn’t always easy to speak out against division and mistrust, and the words of Isaiah might come back to us.
The one who is chosen by God as messenger has to be ready to suffer for the message, and will be prepared to do this because they know God will help and protect them.

If standing up to racism (or sexism or homophobia) singles us out for ridicule or even suffering, we must still be prepared to stand up for God’s message of inclusion, because this is what it means to follow Jesus.

So when we speak of all people being welcome at this table, we need to mean it. If we are all one in Christ Jesus then we are all welcome as his guests.
So come to this table: you who have much faith, and you who seek it.
You who know you are made whole and you who feel broken.
You who know you are rich and you who have great need.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, come and eat & drink and be strengthened to share God’s welcome with all.
In Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.

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