A sermon preached at St Martin-in-the-Fields on Sunday 31 January 2021 by Revd Richard Carter.
Readings of address: Mark 4.35-41
“You know when I came here I was poor,” he said. “I had nothing but we had each other and we had a common cause- the need to survive and find a place of safety. That hope kept us going. I still see us now in those first pictures trying to keep warm in ill fitting donated clothes. We thought we had finally arrived. Little did we know another journey was just beginning. We knew the fear, the violence and the torture we wanted to escape. But we did not yet know the torture of loneliness and never belonging. We saw this as the ‘motherland’ We did not realise this was a mother who did not want us. But we soon learnt- divided from one another, not allowed to work, alienated from my culture, the endless waiting, the suspicion, their shut doors, newspaper headlines, all night buses, and the shame of the queues waiting in the cold for second hand food and tea in polystyrene. And then the endless months of waiting for replies from the Home Office that never came. We learnt in their words that we had no recourse to anything.”
Stay safe, stay at home. But what if you’ve got no home or no place to stay safe?
To be with people in times of trouble is to realise there is no quick fix or instant happy ending. “Don’t worry about helping everyone just think about the person in front of you.” Mother Teresa said. She also said that the greatest poverty in the western world was loneliness. That’s where hope begins- with relationship. To be with people you care about is to feel their wound and know their pain. To love your neighbour as yourself, is to be with the other person as they are, not as you would like or expect them to be. All of us have a past story and a longing for the future. And it is often in the pain of our own lives that compassion and empathy can be born. Prayer is not the medication or the instant healing- it is the vaccine of God’s love and forgiveness in our blood stream. God above, God beside us, God, beneath, God within. Our Gospel is that God’s love never gives up. God is never ever indifferent. God is never absent- that is the meaning of eternity. Each week before our guests at the Sunday International Group arrive, many homeless (from many different parts of the world, we the hosts, who also come from many parts of the world and who are ourselves guests, remind ourselves that everyone who enters our door is Christ himself coming to visit us. The guests are our blessing. And every host themselves is Christ’s welcome. I have seen it- I have seen people arrive angry, humiliated, bedraggled, knotted up by the anxiety of survival and have seen what kindness does-it unwinds you. I have felt it myself thaw my own heart-and giving me purpose again. I have seen guests and hosts depart filled with light. It is happening here now in this live-stream. I have seen God’s compassion flooding outwards in your comments and prayers for one another and for our common home. Christ has no body now on earth but ours.
I remember a woman who came to see me to ask for my prayers. She came carrying a very young child. She was seeking asylum in this country and I heard something of the unspeakable suffering she had been through, both in the country she had fled and also that she had faced here in the UK as she tried to find a safe place to live. .
She asks me if I could pray for her. But before I could say anything she has kneels down on the floor- and was praying herself. praying in her own language, like a soft rhythmical chant from the throat, it sounds like Aramaic, the language of Jesus. I cannot understand her pray but then I recognise that she is repeating the name of Jesus over and over- Jesus meaning saviour- and there are tears running down her face. It is as though she is praying for me too and the whole world at this time. ‘Lord Jesus Christ- son of God have mercy on me.’ And as she prays she cradles her child- like Mary cradling Christ – all her fears and all her hope meeting in this prayer meeting in this young life and the future of a child.
For most of our lives national disasters- brutal wars, famine, draught, earthquakes, disease, the full effects of climate change have been removed from us. We have not fully realised our connectedness with the world and our shared planet or fully realised how the way we live is intimately linked with other parts of the world. But this has changed. What happens when we don’t know the future? When schools aren’t open for our children, what happens when health services we have always depended on get overwhelmed? What happens when we can no longer depend on care homes or care providers to look after our elderly or even us. What happens when our leaders also seem confused and decisions change overnight and when the way ahead so uncertain What happens when we too recognise the vulnerability and fragility of our own lives and hear the nightly death toll? Perhaps there is the opportunity to begin to see the world as millions see it throughout the world- not as a national birth-right but as a gift we need to cherish, to honour and nurture- not something in competition with us but our body, our universal body in need of a healing. Perhaps like those disciples in the boat who thought we can manage alone, now in the midst of the storm when we fear we are sinking, we want to wake up to the way the truth and the life of one who can save us. Perhaps now we realise our need to love God and our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Pope Francis writes in his new book “let us dream” :
Just as what separates me from my brother and sister is my and their spirit of self-sufficiency and superiority, what unites is our shared insufficiency our mutual dependence on one another and on God. We are no longer rivals but members of the same family. We are no longer caught in the mutual spiral of antagonism. We may not think the same but we are part of the same Body moving together. To dream of a different future we need to choose fraternity over individualism as our organising principle. Fraternity- our sense of belonging to each other and the whole of humanity. It’s a unity that allows people to serve as a body despite difference of viewpoint, physical separation and human ego. You see we have a common home.
Truth is no a static fixed thing, it is something that is always being revealed. It’s not something we own or control it requires that we see not only our own projections but through others eyes. Now is the chance to deepen and widen our gaze and see our human family again- to allow God’s truth to be revealed. Jesus in today’s Gospel calls us to leave the shore of our own territory and come across the water to the other side- to God’s way of seeing. To get into the boat and push out.
It doesn’t take us long to realise our boat, like Kourbaj’s boats that we have heard Neil MacGregor describe, is very small and the sea is very vast. Think of those frail boats like hospital beds in a vast isolation ward. What is more is that we are heading into the unknown and on this journey storms arise which we fear will lose us or sink us. And sometimes in the midst of those storms it feels like Jesus, who we counted on, cannot hear us or is perhaps is asleep, or worse still is not in our boat at all. And yet it is now more than ever that we need him. And its now that we must awaken him in our lives, and hear his voice. This boat, like the church, may seem small and leaky and unable to cope with the way. But it is in this boat with his frightened disciples around him that Jesus speaks these words. Peace be still… Why are you afraid? Have you no faith? Remember that the story does not end here. Those disciples who seem so afraid and so convinced that they will drown are going to be the ones who will be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. And it is out of this- out of the storm that they will learn in humility to trust in God’s unconditional love. They will be become the protagonists of a new future in which God’s love for all is going to be revealed upon a cross and his rising again and in the sending of his Spirit the Comforter.
Where will we find Christ today? Well I believe he will still be found among those who need him most. As we realise our own uncertainties have you not discovered that the one that perhaps you thought was asleep is closer now than ever and speaking those same words to you? ‘Peace be still’- is it not now that the poor of God the anawim, the dispossessed, are going to be the ones who need to become the witnesses, the teachers, the prophets of God’s future now? Those who are homeless or displaced by war, poverty and natural disaster- like God’s people in exile, are those, who if we all want to survive, are calling us to a new of living and sharing and a new way of relating to God’s creation. So look for Jesus here and now. In your own boat. Your fears, your own inner loneliness, your neighbourhood, your nation your world- among those who need him most- and hear his words to you- ‘Peace be still do you not know that I am with you?’
Pope Francis writes:
You have to go to the edges of existence if you want to see the world as it is . You have to make for the margins to find a new future . When God wanted to regenerate creation, He chose to go to the margins — because they were also places full of possibility.