Into the wilderness, or regaining the Promised Land?

From a sermon preached on the Feast of St John the Baptist, and following the EU Referendum

I have made a promise – to myself and to one or two others – that today, I will not mention the “R” word. Which will no doubt be a relief to at least some of you!

I do, however, want to refer to Friday morning’s “Thought for the day” on Radio 4 – which came as people around the country were just beginning to register what had happened.

The speaker was Bishop Richard Harries – who was Bishop of Oxford when I was there as an undergraduate. So it was very nice to hear his calming tones again, among the rather more frenetic activity that was otherwise filling the airwaves.

He explored the question of identity – something which can either give us a sense of solidarity with others, or separate us from them.                                                                                   And he suggested that whether we identify ourselves as European, or British, as English, or Scottish – as a northerner, a midlander – even perhaps as a proper Wiltonian  – there is a more fundamental question, for all of us, of “who we are” as human beings.

.We are not just fellow citizens”, he said “we are from a Christian point of view made in the Divine image and called to grow into the Divine likeness.” And from that basis he made a plea for a broader sense of identity which binds people together – even those who disagree with one another.

To those of us who identify ourselves as Christians, St Paul makes a plea for a similar kind of self-understanding in his letter to the Galatians.  “As many of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

That’s a very powerful image – if we take it to heart.

Baptism is the one element of our faith that all of the major Christian traditions recognise and value in common: East and West, Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox – recognise this Sacrament as universal and fundamental to all Christians. By virtue of our baptism, then, we are fellow members of the worldwide family of the Church.

And that offers us at the same time both reassurance and challenge.                                             It brings us a strong sense of mutual support, but also a responsibility for and to our fellow Christians – in a way that transcends both national borders and political systems.                 The problems of the Church in Syria are our problems – the challenges of life in the Diocese of Cueibet are our challenges – because we are all baptised into the one Body of Christ.

And that mutual obligation is at least as much a part of our core identity – as our own nationality or political allegiance.

Perhaps, as a national Church and as a local congregation, we can signpost that broader perspective – that concern for both local and global welfare – so that negotiations around our future national identity will not be allowed either to dominate our lives or to perpetuate the divisions that currently exist among us.

In his “Thought for the Day”, there was also  a note of caution from Bishop Harries:               that the shared religious identity which binds us together,  also separates us from those who are not Christians – and that can be a source of all sorts of troubles if we allow it.

It’s important to remember, then, that another key part of our Christian calling is that of service to our neighbours – whether or not they happen to be Christians.

Since ALL people are made in the Divine image – it is our vocation be “salt and light” to all people: it’s the shared duty of Christians everywhere to work together to help and encourage ALL people to grow into the Divine likeness.

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