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Sermon: Choral Mattins - 25 October 2015

Sunday 25th October 2015
Choral Mattins
Isaiah 59: 9-20
Luke 14:-14
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The screenwriter Abi Morgan says of her latest film, Suffragette: 'these were voiceless women. We gave them a voice. The dramatisation of the a story we known we know is shocking. We glimpse Emmiline Pankhurst emerging from hiding to give a defiant speech; we follow Emily Davison to the Derby before newsreel of her funeral draws the film to a close. Their narratives are familiar to us; we have their words. However, the decision to use the fictional Maud and Alice, Edith and Violet gives the film a heartbeat of ordinariness, which intensifies the impact of historic moments. Their testimonies were transcribed by others; their destinies were mapped out by others.

The shock of this story sees the dangerous drudgery of laundries; the use of photographic surveillance; the violation of force feeding; the disruption of family life as a result of detention; the incremental radicalisation of some; the police brutality.  Alongside the shifting dynamics of female friendship we see the fear and suspicion pervading communities. Therein lies the second shock. The rhetoric is all too contemporary: gathering intelligence, maintaining civil stability, threats to security; the tension between them and us; choices between words and deeds.

News headlines seek to categorise and divide: worker or shirker, refugee or migrant; Christian or Muslim; Unions or Government; civil liberty or civil disobedience; the right to privacy or the need for surveillance. Are there voices in our society which repeat the refrain of Isaiah? Voices crying out We wait for justice but there is none; for salvation, but it is far off. 

Isaiah describes a society which is a long way from the vision of God's Kingdom, shaped by the right judgment of God's love and faithfulness: justice and righteousness are out of reach; people wait for the light, yet they are left stumbling in the gloom; there is oppression and revolt; speech has become dishonest.  Isaiah captures the cries of our humanity. How often do we cry out to God for ourselves or others? We hear the cries of junior doctors or steel workers; the elderly or those who care for them; the jobless or the overworked; the pensioner or student.  Open any newspaper today, and those cries are heard across the globe from the victim of gun crime in the States to the factory worker in China.

If we listen carefully to Isaiah, we hear words of challenge: he gives voice to consequences of sin.  That is the shorthand for all that separates us from each other; for all that separates us from God. The voice seeking justice also cries out that our transgressions are many; that sins testify against us; that we know our iniquities. Sin is a result of turning away from God. It is a denial of God's will and purpose. It's the choice to follow our own devices and desires; even when that leads to the exploitation and dehumanisation of others.

The confession at the heart of Isaiah is honest about our human condition: because we're human, sometimes we are motivated by self-interest or fear. When we fail to put God's love at the centre of our lives - individually and corporately - we experience fragmentation and alienation at every level. That's not God's will for us; because  we're human, still look for light and long for justice. For we are created in God's image and blessed with the gift of freedom, to bless others.

The confession at the heart of Isaiah is honest about God's power to draw us back into right relationship.Though we turned away and rebelled, he did not abandon his own. When we lack the courage to plead for truth or fail to stand up for justice, God himself acts. Through the words of his prophet we hear the divine expression of displeasure but also the promise of a Redeemer; one who will bring us back and restore us.  The  imagery is of might and strength.We are called back to God's commandments to love him and to uphold his righteousness in our dealings with others. We are forgiven and receive God's grace that - in the words of our anthem - we may decline from sin and incline to virtue.

The name of the Lord is glorious: the source of light, peace, hope and righteousness. The hope writ large is that east and west will turn back to God and away from the self-deception of human pride. Yet, we know that amongst nations and in the outworking of our lives, that things still go awry. We continue to thirst for justice and the manifestation of righteousness; we seek after truth and purpose.   God's response is to fulfil the promise of redemption in his Son, Jesus Christ. In him, God's love is made perfect in human weakness.

By drawing near to us, he restores our centre of gravity. He invites us to live in response to his generous love. We do so not because of obedience to a law; but because of our relationship to Jesus. We still grapple with the complexity of our human life - with the cries for affirmation, forgiveness and justice. But in Christ, we are called to be part of the solution; seeking to build the Kingdom of God. In Luke's Gospel, we catch a glimpse of what that might look like: what happens when we put God centre stage rather than self.

Jesus draws us into the radical demands of the law.  He looks at the person in need and hears his cries; he brings healing and restoration. He challenges us to see the law as a gift of responding to human need in love, rather than a mechanism of isolating us from their demands. Silence and disengagement leads to a profound teaching about the nature of discipleship.  He plays to our human instinct about social embarrassment, awkwardness and shame. Rather than occupying positions of entitlement or having pride in our status, we are called to make space for others. Our Proclaiming Liberty lectures are in a way making space for conversation, relationship, understanding and action. Saying "Come, Holy Spirit", kindle in us love of God's Kingdom.

The cost of that is played out in all sorts of ways. It is played out in the sorrow expressed to those who've been victims of abuse in the church; it is reflected in our concerns to make our churches safe places for the most vulnerable; as we learnt in Thursday's lecture about trafficking, it is revealed when we draw attention to victims of trafficking and when act to shine light in the darkness.  It is the power of God's Spirit at work in us, and in the world, that moves us to a closer approximation of God's Kingdom: may justice, truth, righteousness reign.  May we walk, by grace, in a perfect heart.

Let us pray:

O God, whose Son Jesus Christ cared for the welfare of everyone and went about doing good to all: grant us the imagination and resolution to create in this country and throughout the world a just social order; make us agents of your compassion to the suffering, the persecuted and the oppressed, through the Spirit of your Son, who shared the sufferings of humanity, our pattern and redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.