The Rev'd Canon Michael Rawson, Interim Dean of Southwark
The Interim Dean's sermon preached at the Choral Eucharist on Sunday 24 September.
It is three and half years since Southwark Cathedral became a member of the Community of the Cross of Nails. Little did we all know what was just around the corner with a national lockdown happening a few weeks later and the world being plunged into a pandemic, the like of which none of us had ever experienced. And yet, becoming a member of a worldwide movement of reconciliation and peace that rose from the ashes of the destroyed medieval Coventry Cathedral during the blitz of 1940 was a real gift from God to us and continues to be.
The Litany of Reconciliation has become an integral part of our round of worship every Friday. Written on the east wall of the ruined Coventry Cathedral are the words, ‘Father Forgive’ and they underscore the ministry of peace, justice and reconciliation embodied at Coventry in particular and lived by the Community of the Cross of Nails. As members of this Community we commit themselves to
- Healing the wounds of history
- Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity
- And building a culture of peace.
Here at Southwark we are seeking to face and address the challenges of youth violence and knife crime, terrorism and modern day slavery. Working with partner organisations two vey successful projects have been organised around these issues. The values of healing and celebrating our diversity seem to be the antidote we desperately need, living in a world of conflict, hatred and aggression
The Litany of Reconciliation prayed every Friday in this Cathedral and at the beginning of today’s service, asks ‘Forgive us … for the pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God.’
In our first reading, Jonah did not like the idea that God’s grace was for everyone and not just a few. He didn’t want to live by God’s law of love and compassion. He couldn’t believe that God could forgive and love everyone equally inspite of the fact that Jonah was himself on the receiving end of God’s grace and healing. His understanding that God is a ‘gracious God and merciful, abounding in steadfast love,’ stopped at his doorstep and was not to be shared with his neighbours and enemies.
Sadly things haven’t changed all that much since the days of Jonah. We see and experience them through greed and power struggles, fear and terror, violent words and actions, a lack of kindness and understanding. And if we’re honest we can find ourselves on both the giving and receiving ends.
A similar theme is taken up in our gospel reading. This is a parable so it’s clearly not addressing fair wages. Infact it runs contrary to all our values of fairness and justice. As with all Jesus’ parables he was trying to provoke a reaction from the crowd he was addressing so the story is over the top. The landowner hires one group of workers at the start of the working day and then throughout the day, up to the last hour, he continues to hire those who are sitting around with nothing to do. So far, so good. The problem occurs when the workers begin to be paid at the end of the day. Those who started work at 5 o’clock get the same wage as those who started early doors. We can only imagine what the early starters had to say about this, probably because we'd have been there with them, saying just the same as them.
But this isn’t actually about them, rather it is about the generosity of the landowner, the generosity of God, ‘who chooses to give to the last what he gives to the first.’ This is all about a gracious gift with no strings attached and utterly undeserved. It is a reminder that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. And God delights that we and the whole of humanity are made in the image and likeness of God.
This truth lies at the very heart of the Community of the Cross of Nails and is something practical that we can all do as followers of Christ in this place. This is about seeing the world and one another through the lens of God’s untiring love for humanity and we are called to love and forgive others and ourselves, being at peace and living with peace.
Each of us is invited to work for the transformation of our world through love, generosity, nurturing, compassion, respect, humanity and above all hope. We cannot do any of this on our own or in our own strength. We need one another and also forging relationships and partnerships with a wide variety of people and organisations in order to bring about peace, healing and reconciliation. Jonah got the wrong end of the stick, thinking that he was the only one who could bring about the kingdom by being in control. In our own day and in our own context we respond to the generosity and graciousness of our loving and compassionate God. As agents of love, reconciliation and peace we need to cooperate and work with others, with people of goodwill who seek the same goal. Sometimes they might be surprising people, as we will be surprising partners to them. Being part of such a kingdom community points our world to a very different narrative where we are seen to be learning to live with difference and celebrating our diversity in the family of humanity.
Speaking during a Christmas radio broadcast in 1940 following the destruction of his cathedral, Provost Howard of Coventry said this,
‘We are going to try to make a kinder, simpler, a more Christchild-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife.’
This surely is the vocation of all us who seek to follow in the way of Christ. This is how we are called to live here in Southwark and in our neighbourhoods and local communities so that we can transform our world through healing, peace and hope.