What I’ve prepared to say at the Eight O’Clock Holy Communion this coming Sunday (the Tenth Sunday after Trinity). As usual, preaching to myself before I preach to the congregation:
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. (Luke 19.41-42)
It’s probably the year 30 AD. In Luke’s account, Jesus is approaching the holy city for what will be his last Passover. He has foreseen his death and knows that now it draws near. Yet it’s not himself, but Jerusalem, the City, the people, his fellow-Jews, that he weeps for. Why? Because they do not know the things that belong unto their peace.
All they knew was that they were oppressed, under the Roman occupation, part of an Empire they hated and despised, governed by Gentiles whom they regarded as unclean, outside of God’s covenant and therefore hated by God. They expected and longed for a Messiah who would be a king, a man of war, a conqueror to drive out the Romans, set them free, establish a glorious new godly kingdom.
And this would be disaster for them. It would lead to uprisings, rebellions, eventually to the Jewish War of 66-73 AD which would result in total defeat. Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Temple destroyed, never again to be rebuilt.
If only they had known the things that belonged to their peace! If only they had believed Jesus and embraced his teaching about the true kingdom, the kingdom of God and what it means. (See the Sermon on the Mount, and the Gospels passim.)
But when I consider the world today, I seem to hear exactly the same words: If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.
Jesus is still weeping over a world that turns away from blessing – the blessing that comes from seeking God and living by his will – and instead embraces the untruth and the lies that can only lead to disaster.
I think only of our own country. I don’t want to talk about Brexit: whatever views I have about it, some of you will agree with me, and probably just as many will disagree strongly. None of us really knows what will happen next year, to us or the EU, and the problem seems to be that all of us believe only the facts and forecasts we want to believe…
But I already hate what has happened to this country in the last few years: that we have become so divided, not only about this issue, but about so many others as well. Not just divided, but hatefully divided. Instead of being able to have a calm, sensible, rational debate about things, with people who hold different views – trying to listen to one another, to discover the facts and what is true and right, and then discern together the best course of action, all we have now is not debate at all. It’s become almost usual to curse, accuse, hate and vilify people who hold different views. Not only to suspect them of the worst possible motives, but to publicly accuse them of being traitors or worse. Social media has a lot to answer for in this respect, of course, because people feel able to say all kinds of things on the Internet that they would hardly dream of saying out loud in public, or to a person’s face. (Though sadly, saying it in the safety of the Internet makes them bold enough to do just that.) But it’s not just social media! The headlines of supposedly responsible newspapers, and the tone of their editorials, so often seem to want to stir up violent attitudes and reactions, suspicion, mistrust, hatred of ‘enemies’.
What happened to our country? Where did it go? What happened to British values of tolerance, openness, welcome, hospitality, freedom to hold different points of view, and express them without fear, without being accused of being somehow criminal or evil, without being threatened with violence or death?
These are horrible times to live in, perhaps even dangerous times. (And let me quickly say we are all infected, none of us is immune: don’t we all find ourselves beginning to hate people on the other side of these current issues?)
So what are we, as Christians, to do? Join in with the haters, those who want to make and to crush enemies? Run away and hide our heads in the sand, and pretend that all is well?
I believe that we have a different and special calling, which may be the only thing that holds out any hope of healing. Let us, at least, be people who know the things that belong unto our peace.
Because we are Christians, we are people of Resurrection. We believe in life from the dead; we believe in hope even when others think all hope has gone. We are people of reconciliation, because Jesus died on the cross to reconcile the whole world, all people, to God.
So we must
- Believe: in all that Gospel we claim to believe.
- Pray: for our country; but especially love and pray for our ‘enemies’, because that’s what Jesus told us to do.
- Seek God’s kingdom above all us, because it alone, rather than any of the kingdoms of this world, is the kingdom in which our true citizenship is found.
Above all, not give in to what the World wants to do to us: namely, to make us afraid, make us hate, make us give up hope.
Let’s stand tall and say: No, I won’t give in to that. I will not become what you want me to be.
Prayer, in the words of Psalm 46:
GOD is our hope and strength : a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved : and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though the waters thereof rage and swell : and though the mountains shake at the tempest of the same.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us : the God of Jacob is our refuge.
10 Be still then, and know that I am God : I will be exalted among the heathen, and I will be exalted in the earth.
11 The Lord of hosts is with us : the God of Jacob is our refuge.