God has no favourites Acts 11: 1-18, John 13: 31-35
Every minister in the land with a radio mike is now being reminded not to ‘do a Gordon Brown’ at the end of the service! I am not of course going to tell you whether you should feel sorry for him & vote Labour or decide he’s an idiot and vote for someone else. I am however going to remind you to vote on Thursday – because I think everyone should.
But it was interesting that amongst all the furore about what Gordon Brown said about Mrs Duffy, there has been relatively little discussion of the issue of immigration which she raised. Again, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you what how to vote on the issue of people from other countries coming to the UK, to work or as asylum-seekers, but I am going to share a story with you.
Michael Jagessar, is a URC minister and a theology tutor who is Indo-Caribbean: Michael was born in Guyana, descended from Indian people who were taken to Guyana as indentured labourers. A few years ago at a ministers’ spring school he read out part of a letter from the Bishop of Birmingham to the Archbishop of Canterbury, written as many Caribbean men were coming to the UK after 1948, to take up unfilled jobs. The bishop wrote that he didn’t want to see these black men in Anglican churches – they would only want to eye up the women and then marry them and then they would take over!
I was left wondering how people – and especially how people in the church - could exclude people on the basis of the colour of their skin?
Yet it seems to be human nature to gravitate towards what my sister refers to as PLUs = people like us.
There is usually a point where we come to the end of our comfort zone. We might say ‘everyone is welcome here: we are all brothers and sisters in Christ’. But what about noisy people, or people who want to change everything, someone whose lifestyle is different (a different class, or who are dressed oddly, or with different sexual preferences).
How welcoming are we really, deep down, when we start to feel uncomfortable?
Some years ago in a previous church where I was minster we had a ‘gentleman of the road’ who joined us one Sunday. He undoubtedly came in out of the cold, and was the ‘real thing’ – matted hair, holes in his shoes, and the longest, dirtiest fingernails I have ever seen. He sat quietly through the service, then accepted a cup of tea and stood and ate all the biscuits. When I asked if we could get him some food from the shop across the street he said he’d like 3 Mars bars. He came back the next week, and the next.. never asking for money, never any trouble apart from the rather disconcerting smell as he warmed up. Then he started telling me he was descended from the Spanish Royal family – he became less and less in touch with reality.. and finally one week, for no apparent reason, he became verbally abusive and threatening. We were all relieved when he didn’t come back the next week – no one more than me. Here was someone who took us well beyond our comfort zone and perhaps I failed to act on the words of Jesus ‘love one another as I have loved you’.
We might read the story from Acts and think it’s a story about food – Peter is being told by God to relax about Jewish food laws and learn to accept a more liberal approach. We might listen to the context and realise that this story is about accepting non-Jews into the new Christian church – and a good thing too, or else Christianity would have remained a small sect of Judaism and we wouldn’t be here.
But if we’re not careful we consign this story to the past and to the history of the church forget that it’s a story about us.
God’s spirit falls on those God chooses – Peter says the spirit fell on ‘them’ as it feel on ‘us’ - irrespective of human barriers, our prejudices and our certainties.
I once heard Joe Aldred, a bishop in a Pentecostal church in Birmingham tell the story of the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles in 1906. Here the Spirit fell on a one-eyed, black, semi-literate man, William Seymour, who was the son of former slaves. He became the leader of a Pentecostal movement in the United States – chosen by God despite his background.
God’s love and God’s call is for everyone, without boundary or limit.
In Jesus’ final discourses, when he wants to reinforce the main point of his ministry for his disciples, Jesus says ‘love one another as I have loved you.. then all will know you are my disciples’.
However you vote on Thursday, vote with love for others in your heart and be open to what God is calling you to be and to do.
And pray that our churches may be places of welcome to all people, of all views, and all types.
Remember that this table is open to all: this bread and wine, signs of God’s love shown in Jesus for everyone.
This church needs to be a church for all, declaring God’s love for all, whoever they are and whatever our own prejudices.
Come and know God’s love for you and be ready to share it.
In Jesus name.