Sermon preached by Revd Dr Sarah Brush on Sunday, 21st June 2020 via Zoom
Reading Romans 6:1-11
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Reading Matthew 10:24-39
24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means!
“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
What then are we to say?
Should we continue in sin
in order that grace may abound?
By no means!
How can we who died to sin go on living in it?
When I teach our ordinands about preaching, I advise them to explore the texts for today in the light of the season of the church and the season of the world. Often on this Sunday of the year I would talk about Father’s day. Yet there are more to the seasons of the world than the special days in the calendar
One of the seasons of the world at the moment, aside from pandemic, is the movement of Black Lives Matter. Karen spoke a bit about this a couple of weeks ago and yet when I saw the readings today, I felt God prompting me to continue from her theme, exploring the institutionalised sin of racism. Within our scripture today we have a short parable which, as is often the case with Jesus’ stories, touches upon a group in society who have been disadvantaged. “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; For many years our translations of that Greek word doulos was the softer, easier to hear word of servant. Yet slave is a far more accurate translation. Jesus lived in a world where slavery was evident and visible. With the Black Lives Matter campaign, we have had our eyes opened to the legacy of slavery for many in this country and around the world. More than that, slavery is just as prevalent today as it was in Jesus time. Arguably, because of population growth there are estimated to be more people in slavery now than there have ever been. And I was reminded of that and the work of the Clewer Initiative with which our Sisters at Cuddesdon are associated, when I read another phrase in our Gospel today “what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops”. Part of the Clewer Initiative’s response to modern slaveryhas been about uncovering what has been covered up; about engaging the public to be vigilant for signs of forced labour and people trafficking in industries like Car Washes and Nail bars. The Black Lives Matter campaign is about transforming whispers to proclamations on the roof tops.
I watched a fantastic discussion online on Thursday between Anthony Reddie, a Black Methodist Theologian and fellow member with me of the Committee for the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology and four other Black theologians, entitled Black Lives Matter is the Church Complicit. In that, Anthony challenged the white members of the audience to reflect on what he has often wondered about his white colleagues: “What do they say when I am not in the room?” What are white people doing to challenge institutional racism when there are no black people present. Now for most of us, living in rural Oxfordshire, that is our everyday experience. Most of the time we live in a place where there are no black faces. So, this question is present all the time. What do we say about racism? Of course many of the reasons for that Are, because, in general terms, Black Asian and Minority ethnic people are more economically disadvantaged than white people and even some white people can’t afford to live in an Oxfordshire village, which I know is a cause of sorrow to some people who grew up in our villages and would love to live here still. The Corona Virus has shown us that Black Asian and Minority ethnic people are at greater risk of catching it and at greater risk of dying from it and scientists are suggesting that a significant contribution to this risk is made by the lower socio-economic class for most Black Asian and Minority ethnic people in this country and the types of job which they are able to get which place them at greater risk of catching it.
The church I grew up in was not in an Oxfordshire village but in the centre of High Wycombe and we were blessed to have a multi ethnic congregation with a substantial number of Caribbean parishioners from the Windward Islands specifically as well as Sri Lankan and Zimbabwean members of the congregation. And yet when I was a young adult, the vicar at the time went on a sabbatical trip to serve in the Windward Islands on an exchange and he learnt a terrible truth of the history of our church.
When these Anglican West Indians first came to our church as part of the Windrush generation, the church welcomed them in. And told them they could only sit in the side aisles. According to theologian and historian Joe Aldred they had a better reception than many Caribbean Anglicans who, on moving to the UK sought out their local Anglican churches only to be told, ‘No this place is not for you. You should start your own churches.’
Fortunately, this was not the case everywhere. A church I was attached to in Balsall Heath in Birmingham had a congregation almost 50/50 white and black Caribbean – one of the most warm and welcoming churches I have ever been a part of. They clearly had been welcomed and not just into the side aisles. They were valued. In our gospel reading, Jesus reminds his followers of their great value in the eyes of God. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. There is no differentiation there between black sparrows and white sparrows. Jesus tells them of the worth of every human being and calls them to share that good news of the great love and care which God has for all humanity as expressed in Jesus’ message and in his death and resurrection. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; I think acknowledging Jesus means acknowledging also those whom God loves; acknowledging those Black people who have suffered from generations of institutionalised discrimination; acknowledging those caught in slavery today.
And Jesus knew that making that kind of acknowledgement would not always be easy. It could bring conflict with those whom we love most. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 That challenge from my friend Anthony, What do you say when there isn’t a black person in the room? What do we say when someone we know begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…” What do we say when we hear a relative speaking of someone as if they were worth less than sparrows? Are we too afraid that we might upset them? Are we too worried that they might say something hurtful back to us:
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
If we do not speak up then we perpetuate the institutional sin of racism in our world. What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?