Readings: Ps 4; 1 John 3, 1-17; Luke 24, 36b-48
What are the implications of the Epistle’s ‘we are all children of God?’ Is it just a phrase? It is easy to assume those who are ‘children of God’ differ qualitatively from those who are not: one in the light, the other in the dark, as we had last week. Think of those in the world who identify in some way as Christian: 1/3 of the population of the globe. A lot of people. All Christian, but it’s so easy to speak of an ‘us and them:’ if I am blessed, you are not, if we are blessed, they are not, and then decide – unconsciously perhaps- who is in the light and who in the dark, who is the same as or less worthy than me and my sort. A potentially divisive line in the Epistle might support such dividing: ‘no one who abides in him sins: no one who sins has seen him or known him.’ Christian history is littered with deluded self-satisfied groups who dispense with confession as, being in faith, they do not sin.
All sin: but few give weight to our sins of omission, to sins based on failure to respond and to act, to sins stemming from refusal to recognise the fact that all are made in God’s image, all are children of God. Little children rarely commit this sin, but by 5 or 6, they too have been taught and learnt to think tribally: our sort and others, children of (my) God whom I’ll treat with respect, and children of, well, some other God, who are beyond the Pale.
In a few minutes, when I add the water to the wine in preparing the chalice, I say silently: God baptise us afresh and give us the guts to follow Christ. Then I raise the elements, presenting all of us to God that all receive that of God from God, and I know that at that moment, God is utterly with us. That is neither triumphal nor excluding: it just describes that moment. But all too often, ‘God is with us’ becomes ‘with us’ excluding those who are not us, all those people outside our cluster, our kith and kin, leaving us as a happy band of look-alikes or act-alikes.
The intention, the assumption, the demand, behind ‘we are all children of God’ is that that governs our relations with all, for all are made in the image of God, you, me, him, her, them. However, the practice can look rather different. It is not so much inadequate faith which rejects this inclusivity as those socio-cultural-historical patterns which are so entangled with nationalism, rank, gender and ethnicity.
Imagine my flat left hand held horizontal is ‘my way of being a person,’ and being an ordinary human that’s how I expect others to be- as does every other person across the world! Watch me part my straight fingers, and let the fingers of my right hand slip up vertically through the cracks. But now see what is happening: my horizontal country/culture/ nationalism tentacles are bending round and strangling my faith. True, my faith still stands up, but it is changed, lassoed, constricted. How easily then does my group, who are really Children of God unlike your or their group, speak from a faith strangled by nationalism, racism, sexism, elitism or whatever. Others then cease to be seen and treated by me as fully ‘God’s children,’ with all the demands and the benefits of sharing and being that entails. They become indeed ‘them:’ inferior, unimportant, not-quite-persons, the essential move which enables abuse and violence.
Groups and individuals imbued with national and religious fervour, as well as plain evil, have frequently behaved and behave badly towards others they count as diminished or unimportant peoples: Rwanda, Burma, Ireland, past totalitarian governments in Russia, Germany and China, white Americans, Turks, ISIS, Boko Haram. And here too. Husbands who set aside their faith and hit their wife are hitting that Christ in the woman they pledged to honour and love, the woman who is an equal child of God. All here with a British passport who stay silent collude in the shameful treatment of older black Caribbean tax-paying residents who came as children with the Windrush and later ships. Today, as for the last few years, they are being denied health treatment, loosing employment, denied re-entry to their country, Britain, or taken from their homes to Yarley Wood detention centre for expulsion. People of my age, of your age are being treated (even if not so labelled) as illegal scum. If they can produce the fee (£1000 for citizenship), papers for every year of residence, and trust the Home Office enough to apply to residence: fine. If not: go
Christ died voluntarily once to show us through his resurrection that he lives: but he is strangled again and again! This is not party-politics: any person here who affirms them self as a Child of God can join a handful of CofE bishops and 90000 citizens and petition parliament that the rights of other children of God are fully recognised. This is not being patronising and kindly to the needy, but due justice with a touch of mercy: if justice and mercy were omitted, the bible would be a very short text. Only by insisting that the rights of people are acknowledged and restored, can those with a British passport hold up their head.
Look again at my two hands, the horizontal of context and the vertical of faith, and reflect on faith as it pops up through our everyday lives, our assumptions about the world and our own place in it. Are those flames of faith illuminating the words of God spoken by God? How does the strangling of faith in God mesh with Christ’s inclusion of Judas whom he knew would betray him, his gentle kindness to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and in the upper room, ‘peace to you,’ his request that ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached to all:’ because all are God’s children? Do you feel a little uncomfortable? I do.
Lethargic acceptance of the status quo is no answer! Let us rather witness to Christ in our lives, look for that of God in every person we meet, and polish the image of God in us. Then as today’s psalm 4 says, we can truly ‘lie down and sleep, for thou O Lord makest me dwell in safety.’
Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping
Milton under Wychwood
April 15th 2018