Second Sunday before Lent
9am & Choral Eucharist
Preacher: The Dean
We’re living in an age of fake news so we’re told by President Trump. Well, truth has always been disputed so in one sense nothing’s new except that there are now many ways to get your fake news, your alternative facts into people’s minds. The most wonderful and memorable piece of fake news must be the headline on the Sun on 13 March 1986: FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER. He denied that he had; he said he’d never even nibbled a hamster and that it was all a publicity stunt. But you’re clever people – you don’t believe everything that you read in the press or hear in a political rally!
But you probably did read about the meeting of General Synod last week in Westminster and if you did you’ll no doubt have read that we were considering on the Wednesday a report from the House of Bishops on Sexuality and Same Sex Marriage. The result of a debate and group work which almost took up the whole of the day was that the House of Clergy voted not to take note – it was a take note debate – and so even though it was taken note of by the bishops and the laity it failed to get any further in the Synodical process.
I mention it because some members of the congregation were in Dean’s Yard at Westminster taking part in a silent vigil, praying that we wouldn’t take note, others were in the gallery of the Chamber, others were watching online.
My inbox was full of messages from people asking me not to take note and not to take part in the Group Work. I even had an email from a member of a Vineyard Church in this Diocese, a house church, asking me not to take note. But I’d already made my mind up, that I wouldn’t go to the Group Work – it seemed to me pointless to look at more case studies when I’d told my own story three times in three sets of Shared Conversations and it’d made no difference and anyway the case studies just presented gay people as a problem to be solved not as a blessing to the church as people are experienced in this congregation. I’d decided I would put in to speak in the debate and thank God I was called and I’d decided I would not take note of a report that seemed not to have taken note of the process that we’ve been engaged in for over two years, a process that Canon Mandy gave herself to as a facilitator and in which many of us had made ourselves vulnerable.
So, I don’t know where we are now – except that Bishop Christopher has issued a Pastoral Letter which I will read to you shortly. The newspapers have proclaimed that the controversial paper prepared by the bishops, that they’d been working on for three years, had been rejected by the Synod. Well, that’s one way of putting it – but as I said in my speech, the bishops can do and should do a lot better. But voting against them didn’t give me any pleasure.
All we can do is take it one day at a time, one step at a time. That’s what Jesus is telling us today in the Gospel, on a Sunday when the readings direct us to think about the gifts and power of our creator God.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’
Last Sunday I was arriving back from just over a week in Zimbabwe and the Sunday before I was preaching in Bulawayo Cathedral. I’d gone with Bishop Christopher, with Jane, the Archdeacon of Southwark and Wendy the Bishop’s Press Officer and priest here. It was my second time in that country but I’d only ever been to our own Link Diocese of Masvingo. This visit gave me the opportunity to see the whole of the country from Victoria Falls, to Bulawayo, to Masvingo, to Mutare and Harare, to see each of the cathedrals and to meet each of the Deans. But it also enabled me to see just what’s happening in the country.
We’d heard that there’d been a two year drought and you’d responded so generously to the need to feed the children by paying for the feeding programme that Bishop Godfrey initiated in Masvingo. That’s been wonderfully successful.
But the God who created the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land as we heard in our First Reading has also sent rain after the drought – and so much rain that the rivers and the reservoirs are full, the aquifers have been replenished, the bore holes are working and, where crops have survived the rain, they’re thriving. The money that we have invested in projects is literally bearing fruit.
The people are rejoicing. They still have to harvest a crop but the gracious God who provides all for humankind he loves, those created in his own image, are being fed at his hand. The downside is that the dirt roads that get you to the villages and the projects have been washed away and we had the most difficult journeys I’ve ever experienced – but that was a small price to pay.
Our brothers and sisters over there are not spending their time thinking about the churches response to homosexuality, they’re thinking about the churches response to a serious cash shortage in the country, rising inflation, continuing food shortages and the possibility of violence during the elections next year. But they understand that we have to think about what we have to think about as the church in this nation, as a cathedral in this city, at this time.
The agonies, the worries, the trouble that Jesus talks about in the gospel are part of what it means to be living and growing, what it means to be part of creation. There are some who’d like it to be that creation took 6 days and was then all done and dusted, that God sat down and admired his work and it was very good and that was that. But St Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, makes it clear that creation is an ongoing process, that the bringing to birth goes on and on and on
‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now’
and then he adds
‘not only the creation, but we ourselves’.
Whether we be in the Church of England or the Church in Zimbabwe we’re caught up in this creation-wide act of bringing to birth, the labour pains of the kingdom. Creation is ongoing as new things come to birth, as we respond to the challenges of now, the natural challenges of drought and flood, the justice challenges of hunger and plenty. We respond to the ways in which society develops which we as a church have to wrestle with and agonise over, what does marriage look like now, what do relationships look like now, what, to use the words of Archbishop Justin at the General Synod, words which echo and give fresh validity to our own vision statement, what does radical inclusion look like now, what does love look like now and see in all of that the divine image that was seen on the sixth day.
And Jesus agonises with us, Jesus brings to birth in his own body, through his cross, through his death, through his resurrection, a new heaven and a new earth, a new creation of which we are all sons and daughters.
For some the agony, the struggle of being a Christian is bad news, an unwelcome headline, something to be avoided. The good thing is that we, here, in this great Cathedral, are always ready to engage with reality because the God who both created and entered our reality is the God we know, who takes our humanity and makes it divine, who embraces the hungry and the outcast, the excluded and despised and calls each one of us brother, calls each one of us sister.
The truth and the headline for today is that God loves you, you, of more value than the flower of the field. That is not fake news this is the good news for the people of Zimbabwe, for the people of England, the people of Southwark, the reason why our bells ring out today. The God of radical inclusion, who waters the earth with rain and waters our lives with love, is the God who in Jesus died for you, who gives himself to you. This is the truth, this is our faith.