‘He came to his own; but his own did not receive him’ [John 1:11]
Given the evident spiritual and other harm impending and already done by the curse that is “brexit”, the apparent reluctance/inability of almost all churches to organise any meaningful comment on the ‘great matter’ which is blocking the horizon of the nations of the UK, is profoundly depressing.
And I’m already moderating my language in this initial description. But then I never learned to swear, which is a deficiency which has served me well through four local pastorates.
As I have noted elsewhere, the actual and potential impact of brexit on the regime of regulations to protect the beautiful heritage and diversity of the environment, let alone the economy, rural and industrial, AND let alone the climate, should have been quite sufficient at least for Social Justice committees to arrive at a definite and constructive public position.
But hands are tied.
Maybe I’m not well informed.
I would love to be mistaken.
As environmental chaplain, in these circumstances, I would be grossly negligent if I sat on the fence, let alone as the grandchild of the generation of Europeans which sent young men in thousands to kill each other and dropped bombs on the cities of those we now know as friends and neighbours.
To ‘re-foreign’ our mainland and Irish family is a violent act. And in conflict, the first casualty is generally the natural environment.
This being Lent, in these farcical days of our ‘civilisation’ the Devil - or whoever it was that Jesus met in the wilderness - is looking on and laughing.
Out of a long history of crass and inappropriate intervention, churches seem to have become terribly reticent, and very easily intimidated.
Media offices have learned to dread the incontinent warfare of those scathing but near-anonymous critics on social media. ( One thinks of the ‘Knights who say ‘Ni’ in Monty Python).
That said, speaking spiritual truth to power (or to ignorance) still requires skill and discernment if our forthrightness is not further to undermine the credibility we should seek for the sake of our care for Creation.
And scope for martyrdom, of whatever sort, is limited and unrepeatable.
But reticence and ‘prudence’ contribute to the impression that churches provide a ‘service’, a commodity like any other. Or that they’re a business. Or that the duty of a church is simply to reflect the fears and prejudices of the people, and that agreement and submissiveness is the only appropriate form of solidarity.
I know this is not always the case, and that the faithfulness of Christians will frequently extend beyond simply doing and saying what people want them to; ( this being the precondition under which the Word of the one who ‘came to his own’ might be received without bother. Or effect.)
Jesus brings a message of liberation from whatever it is that oppresses us. Even our own acquiescence: Be it poverty, be it inequality resulting in our wealth, be it sickness, be it health. Be it obsession with this brexit mess which blocks every horizon, obscuring the challenges of climate justice, poverty, ecocide.... let alone.....
In 1971, South African campaigner Steve Biko wrote:
"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."
How, especially amongst those with any awareness of the climate crisis, are we going to encourage each other in the sort of courage which the church will need, to be there as, with and for God’s creatures, in the climate trajectory of our lives?
Is brexit the gift of a trivial training ground, a mere practice sparring partner, rather than some invincible ogre?
No sane or compassionate person will now claim any tangible benefit of brexit to the majority of ‘the British People’. Certainly not to nature. We know it has already cost jobs and probably lives. But churches, even acknowledging the complexity of their conciliar structures, seem to be ‘sitting back’.
In the meantime, we already have more than sufficient evidence of the far greater harm our species is choosing to inflict on the Common Home of all God’s creatures.
More certain than brexit?
Is it our job to make this clear?
The Gospel is wet paint. Reach out and touch it; you will be marked! St Paul, writing to the smug, self-satisfied Corinthian church, expresses this in a florid, even camp manner, when he says:
Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
I imagine ‘content’ is a comforting overstatement. Paul certainly did not enjoy, nor seek out the rotten treatment he experienced as a representative of the Good News, but he knows that it goes with the territory.
Indeed, looking out for violent opposition as a sign that something is beginning to get through, gives rather sparse comfort.
What instead keeps Paul going is the love and support of the church community which shares his love for God in Christ, and supports his calling.
Our movement exhibits that potential.
Paul frequently used his own resources as a self-employed businessman, refusing to claim his fully justified expenses. But whatever his own private financial contribution, we still have above all to recognise that Paul’s work was only able to happen because of the love and material support of the Christian church. Because, one way or another, he did have somewhere to call home. Which Life on Earth won’t have, without thorough transformation of our lives.
When Jesus is rejected, whether from above or below, he goes on his way, again, teaching the apostles to do likewise. Not cursing, not calling down destruction and flames on those who chose to reject the good news. There is no need. Refuse goodness, ignore justice, disbelieve what is plainly there in front of you, and you are the one who causes what follows. No need to find a vengeful God to blame for what you have chosen when the chance was there for something better.
The question, then, is not, are we gifted with God’s love, and signs of God’s love, let alone loving warnings, but rather, what we do with such gifts?
Jesus does not condemn those who choose to miss out. But he does not go running after those who have been abundantly gifted and turned it all down. Reject him, and he moves sadly on, amazed, bewildered that we can be so blinkered. The judgement lies therein, that he respects our choice.
At the beginning of my ministry, I tried to say to people ‘don’t blame me for the gospel’, remembering what Paul wrote:
Galatians 1: ’10
I am not trying to please people. I want to please God. Do you think I am trying to please people? If I were doing that, I would not be a servant of Christ.
But as time has gone on, I have had to conclude that this is a forlorn hope. Bearing Good News and Bad News involves you with a community of faith. Whatever you wear on your sleeve, let alone on your collar or lapel, people will both blame you for and praise you for.
It is another of the things I have learned over a quarter century of preaching, that people do blame not the message but the messenger.
We need, to get used to this; that for better or for worse, for the people we encounter, we are the gospel.
God knows: it can be a terrible blessing!.