Brexit and the Kingdom of God – a sermon on 26th June 2016

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Brexit and the Kingdom of God

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Trinity

26th June 2016

Galatians 15.1,13-25; Luke 9.51-62


So we have voted for Brexit.  I won’t pretend that I am not deeply disappointed, even horrified, by the outcome of the referendum. Since becoming politically aware as a teenager I have been convinced of the idea that the European Union is the best way of preserving peace in Europe.  I am an internationalist and I believe that the greatest challenges the world faces at the moment can only be met if we recognize our interdependence and act together.  I and many of my friends have benefited from and enjoyed the opportunities that being part of the EU has offered, both for work and leisure.  However, I know that the voting figures nationally and for Birmingham, show that just over half the people of this country do not share that view. I am aware that whilst some of you will share my sadness at this decision, possibly an equal number will be pleased by it; so I am speaking personally and I am not criticising the way anyone here voted or the reasons why they voted that way.

In speaking personally, I have to say that I am not only saddened by the result of the referendum but I have been appalled at the tone in which the campaign and debate was carried out on both sides. I am scared and angered by the hatred that was revealed in our country over the last six weeks. There are deep social divisions in our country with many causes:  there is great inequality; many have been excluded by globalisation and lots of people are trapped in low-paid, zero-hour contract jobs; there is tax-evasion by the rich and austerity cuts which hit the poorest hardest; there has been massive social and cultural change and not everyone experiences multicultural society as an enrichment but, rather, find it a threat.  All this has generated anger and fear which can all too easily turn into hatred and violence. We saw it in the murder of the MP Jo Cox as the person who killed her shouted ‘Britain First!’ and has been found to have links with Far Right groups.  What is more, in Birmingham yesterday evening a group of lads cornered a Muslim girl and shouted at her “Get out. We voted leave.” The EU Referendum did not cause this but it has helped to legitimized it. We all face a challenge ahead to stand up to and resist this kind of hatred and violence.

I hope we will all heed the call from our archbishops that “As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.”   We must try to do these things.

In a radio interview on Wednesday morning David Cameron said of the vote to leave the EU that there would be no turning back. He likened it to a parachute jump saying that once you jump out of the plane you can’t climb back in. Well, for better or worse we have collectively jumped out of the plane.  We are now living in different times and they will challenge us in our call to be not just Christians in name but followers of Jesus Christ in our daily living.

The gospel passage we heard today contains some of the hard sayings of Jesus. The setting is important: he has set his face towards Jerusalem and the time is drawing near for him to be taken up. Jesus is on the way to his fatal confrontation with the political elite of his day – the powers of Rome and the leaders of the people based in Jerusalem.  There is now an urgency and a heightened tension in his dealings with the people he meets and his relationship with the disciples.

On the road to Jerusalem they pass through a village of the Samaritans – but they did not receive him.  We need to understand that at this time there is enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans; they have a shared history but are divided by race and religion. They have a different centre of worship on Mount Gerizim and it seems that, because Jesus is so focussed on going to Jerusalem, they will not receive him. Elsewhere in the gospels the Samaritans are shown in a good light, but here they refuse Jesus because he is not one of them.  So James and John want to call down fire upon them but Jesus rebukes them; he shows restraint and resists retribution and the violence that comes from hatred of those who are not one of us.

Then we have three hard sayings about following Jesus and living in the Kingdom…

First, someone says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go” – Jesus replies saying he has no place to lay his head…

Second, Jesus calls someone to follow him. The person says they will but first they need to bury their father. Jesus replies with words which offend all piety: “Let the dead bury their own dead.” And calls them to proclaim the kingdom.

Third, someone says they will follow Jesus but first they need to say goodbye to those at home. Jesus says “no one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.”

The call to follow Jesus and to live in the Kingdom of God is a call that makes unreasonable demands on us and overrules all other claims of loyalty whether cultural, religious or nationalistic.

The call to be a follower of Jesus takes us out of our comfort zones and the security of being in our own place; foxes have holes and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  We are now in a time of great political and economic uncertainty; collectively we have rejected the status quo and we are now in unchartered territory.  We will have to find our security and sense of place not from material possessions, or even national identity, but from somewhere else and I believe that, for us, that has to be a radical dependence and trust in God.

The other two sayings only make sense if we recognize the urgency of Jesus’ mission at this point in the gospel. Here the demands of discipleship supersede the normal obligations of the Law.  The claims of the Kingdom take precedence over all other claims: even those of kinship and religious piety.

What does that mean for us in this new situation?  I think it reminds us that as Christians we all have a dual citizenship:  we are citizens of whatever country or nation state we live in and we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We have to live in both worlds.  We have to have our feet firmly planted on the earth even if our hearts and heads are in heaven.  What is also clear is that the values and commitments of the kingdom have priority in how we live and act in this world. The kingdom values are what must shape our living:  justice and mercy, compassion and generosity, wholeness and healing.  The fruits of the Spirit must be evident in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  We need to be guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit if we are not to use our freedom for self-indulgence.

The sacrificial love of God for the world revealed in Christ’s life and death are the beginning, middle and end of our story. As we seek to walk in his way in the days ahead we can trust that he is with us and he will lead us beyond fear and despair, beyond anger and hatred, beyond bitterness and regret and into hope, trust and newness of life. In Christ alone our strength and hope and life is found. Amen.