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Sermon: Choral Mattins 28th June 2015

Sunday 28th June 2015
Choral Mattins
Deuteronomy 15:1-11
Acts 27: 27-44
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For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine wide unto thy brother, to they poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

If we open the pages of a weekend travel supplement, we are confronted with idyllic images of sun kissed beaches: tranquil getaways in exotic destinations or mini-breaks a mere short haul flight away. The world is presented as a realm for us to explore and delight in for our indulgence. 

If we look at the front pages of those same newspapers we are confronted with terrible images of those same holiday resorts. The sun still shines on golden sands; the blue hews of water and sky are vibrant as ever. But over the last 24 hours, we've heard of the horror of an attack on a Tunisian beach; armed men emerging from the sea with volleys of gun fire; sun loungers and towels becoming shrouds.

Over recent weeks we've seen images of migrants being plucked from the Mediterranean waters; in Kos western holidaymakers share beaches with those fleeing conflict in Syria. Reflecting on her cousin's determined walk across the Sahara to Europe, the Nigerian writer Chibundu Onuzo says: there are no oceans wide enough to stop migrants... from dreaming of a better life.

We live in a turbulent world wrought with contradictions.The social, economic and political life of the European Union is under strain: member countries facing a range of challenges from the immigration crisis in Italy to the debt burden of Greece.  The horrific violence perpetuated by Islamic State and affiliated groups adds to the fear and instability across North Africa and the Middle East.  

Such violence makes us face the problem of evil in an acute way - we seek answers in psychology and military tactics.  If human nature includes a deep capacity for love and empathy rather than violence, how to make sense of this? How do we respond? The longing for liberty and justice embodied in Magna Carta have universal resonance. We continue to seek peace and pursue it.

Neither Deuteronomy nor Paul's experience in Acts offer us easy answers to the situations underlying the headlines and images. They do however invite us to think and act with prayerful generosity. The Hebrew books of the law, build into the workings of society a pattern of remission of debt. It is the vision which inspired the Jubilee Debt Campaign; that countries might be free to invest in their health, education and infrastructure. 

Alleviating need is a source of divine blessing. Hard-heartedness and tightfistedness are condemned. Giving liberally, with an open hand and heart is what God commands; it reflects God's image in us.   Acting in this way draws us into God's purposes; we become a source of blessing to others, who in turn bless.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we glimpse how the good news of God's love made manifest in Jesus Christ was proclaimed across the known world in the power of the Spirit.  From Jerusalem, Athens and Rome we travel through a world like ours: competing philosophies, episodic persecution, expanding trade routes and the ebb and flow of cross cultural interactions. Throughout this, Paul is trying to make sense of his encounter with the risen Christ and how to share it.  Might the change of heart he experience transform not only his life, but the whole world?

Paul finds himself in a ship, crossing the Mediterranean: stormy seas, rocks, overburdened vessels and shallow waters made it a fearful experience as it is today.  On the one hand we see a pragmatism to Paul. He tells people to eat that they may survive. On the other, he offers spiritual encouragement. He takes bread and gave thanks to God; he broke it and they ate. 

He brings into a situation of fear and uncertainty a glimpse of God's grace, enacting what we might recognise as the Eucharist, Holy Communion. He declares that all shall be saved.  Seeking the welfare of all is action that engenders trust; a sign that preserves the lives of prisoners. 

Violence perpetuates destruction and division.  Yet human beings dream of a better life and God longs to bless us. There are seeds of hope. For us, that is not just about empathy but seeing in God's image in the other. Overcoming conflict and inequality will demand something of us and our leaders. We pray that our financial and political systems, our engineering skill and entrepreneurial imagination may be combined with open hearted compassion to create a sustainable future for our world. May our nation be source of blessing, hope and healing.

As Archbishop Justin put it in his statement in response to Friday's attrocities: wemust reaffirm our solidarity with each other and affirm the great treasures of freedom, in religion and so many other ways. Our strength is in the God who conquered evil when Jesus rose from the dead, and on His death and victory we find the basis of our future.

A prayer for peace: CofE following attacks in Kuwait, Tunisia  and France:

Compassionate God and Father of all,

we are horrified at violence in so many parts of the world.

It seems that none are safe and some are terrified.

Hold back the hands that kill and maim;

turn around hearts that hate.

Grant instead your strong Spirit of Peace -

peace that passes our understanding but changes lives,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.