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Dr. John Lee
Ecclesiasticus 15: 15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37
Racial Justice Day
St.Paul wanted the Christian community to be different. It was a place where alienation would be obviated and eliminated. He wrote about good human relat-ionships as a prelude to eternal happiness. After his conversion his communities included both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free persons, men and women brought together by faith. It was a totally new phenomenon. When speaking of imitating Christ Jesus he was now a believer in the Son of God whom he described as as humble and selfless (Phil 2:6-11). He absorbed the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount. Admirable Christians are like that. They are the pillars of family and institution and community. Christianity did not spread simply by abstract truths. Christians loved Christ with a human face, like their own, being moved to tears at the sight of the sick and alienated and afflicted…and like Jesus they did something about it. St. Paul exemplified that same mentality. Those we admire most in the Church have it- they encourage us, make space for us, provide warmth, have time and smiles for us, and leave the impression that in doing so we are doing them a favour. This is far more than anything that can be legislated for. Hearts cannot be changed by an act of parliament or a set of sanctions. How could one possibly legislate for the implementation of the exhortation of Jesus: be you perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect! (Mt 5:48).
Responding to a call
We are always facing crises in our lives. There is no need to be more dramatic than telling the truth. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. Telling the truth is foundational for human flourishing. It is the major way of encounter between fellow human beings. But it is not just a case of words. We live in contexts, in relationships, in so many different communities. How are we really touched by people? And how do we touch people? This is what Cardinal Newman said about it: “The heart is commonly reached, not through reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description: Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us.” (The Grammar of Assent, chapter 4, section 3). Many a refugee will resonate with this description of the way the feared alien changed and became a friend. Optimism characterises the people who expect others to deal with them hopefully and helpfully, and pessimism expresses the opposite disposition, as does cynicism. A knowledge of history helps us to be realistic. Not least in this equation is our own personal history. It is the one we are most familiar with. Those of us of a certain age know the road we have travelled. We know how much we owe to other people as we make this journey.
This Sunday’s Concerns
Most of us here in our little rural corner of England can do very little about the world that is changing before our eyes. We must not be forgetful of the fact that most people are not as fortunate as we are. Nor do we need to forget that most of our sufferings have probably come in our own families. Looking out beyond the immediate confines of our family life we see why the idea of racial justice is a concern world wide for all humanity, and not least for Christians. Why are people poor? Why are people rich? And has anything changed at all in the world to encourage us to think there must be a better way? Rich people do not leave their homelands because of desperation, but as highly professional people they know they will be welcomed everywhere for their social contributions. Racialism will but rarely enter into it. The poor people leave because of desperation, in the hope of a better life, very often at the economic level. They do not always know that nobody wants them. Nor are they likely to know the history of colonialism and exploitation that may well have contributed to the plight of their homeland, and corruption at home too often makes their future insecure in their own country. The Church is universal and does know. But what Church are we talking about?
On the wings of empire missionaries spread the gospel throughout the whole world whether it was the Roman empire or the many subsequent European empires. Their contribution was phenomenal to the flourishing of the countries to which they went and where they still are, with health and education and the faith that undergirds such generosity. Unfortunately the divisions of Christianity in Europe they took with them. And it was the consciousness of their divisions in the mission field that gestated the ecumenical movement as we know it today. And now missionaries from what we called originally mission territories are serving communities in the European dioceses, both priests and sisters. And why? Historians and sociologists and psychologists and economists all look for answers….whether they find them or not seems to take second place to the filling of the gaps in our own communities now. The facts are before us, and on racial justice Sunday we are asked to think about this, and how we envisage our own role in it.
Back to Corinth and the Sermon on the Mount
Both the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians were directed to new communities finding their way. Matthew’s Sermon and Paul’s Letter were about the higher righteousness: acting above and beyond the call of duty which is true conversion of the heart. Reversing the lost unity of the human race was the aim. The Church was founded to proclaim the values of the Kingdom of God spelt out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. These values are articulated as religious and social, communal and personal, and political. We can vote on them and defend them. They are public and tangible.
We can only do the best we can where we are. And we will probably be dissatisfied with our own contributions. But all around us we see goodness in our community and are encouraged by it. On racial justice day we can be more alerted to this than we otherwise might be. A happy Sunday to you all. Amen.