Sermon for Racial Justice Sunday – Canon Rachel, 13.02.2022

This week’s readings are 1 Corinthians 15.12-20 and Luke 6.17-26

To view the video of Lord Boateng’s speech to the General Synod this week in London which Canon Rachel refers to in this sermon follow the link here.

I wonder if I asked you to picture the average Anglican, who you would picture?  What would the attributes of that person be?  What do you imagine they would do for a living?  What kind of place do you think they would live? 

I wonder if we start by picturing someone a little bit like ourselves…. perhaps because deep down, we all kind of think that we’re what normal looks like.  But as my grandma would have said “all the world’s queer save me and thee….. and even thee’s a little queer”.

Do you picture someone a bit like you?

What if we inform our wondering with a little data.  What do we know about the church?  We know it’s getting older and we have less younger people. You won’t read an article in any newspaper about the church that doesn’t mention this in it’s establishing paragraph. So perhaps your average Anglican is more like Miss Marple, pottering round St Mary Mead, blowing the dust off the prayer books for matins. (Reference for everyone older than me – sorry to all those of you here who are younger!)

I wonder how many of you would tell me that the average Anglican is under 40…. Female….. lives in sub-Saharan Africa…. and is attempting to care for her family on less than £3 a day. 

I’m going to give this imagined average person a name – Botshelo – it means ‘life’ – it’s a friendly approachable name. I am going to root her in Botswana, and ask you to remember her as we reflect together today.

Botshelo is the average Anglican.

The Anglican church of course is more than a Church, it is a Communion of churches, a worldwide family of churches in which every colour and nation is a part, in which we consider ourselves I hope united in Christ with brothers and sisters around the globe.  But is also gives us the opportunity, within our own family, to witness every inequality, every contrast between wealth and poverty, every shocking truth of opportunity versus deprivation, every triumph of privilege over faith illustrated.

Today we are keeping Racial Justice Sunday.  On Tuesday of this week I heard Lord Paul Boateng address the General Synod of the Church of England. He was the UKs first black cabinet minister – amongst many other firsts, and is now the chair of our Archbishops Racial Justice Commission. It was all I could do not to simply transcribe his speech and read it to you – and in fact I will put a link to it on the website and our social media after the service because you should hear all his words, from him.

He spoke of the decades long failure to address racism and lack of diversity in the Church of England as chilling – wounding – a scandal. He pointed out that even Parliament is more diverse than the C of E – and that we are full of good intentions and kind words, but we have so far proved unwilling to make any actual changes, to deliver the equality we claim to want.

He spoke of a Christian love for one another which is more than nice words and kind sentiments, but a commitment to strategy that will deliver change.

He said:

“We will wash your feet, yes, but sometimes we will hold your feet to the fire, because sometimes that is what we have to do.”

“All of us are diminished by racism. We have to talk about those things that cause hurt, not just to each other, but to Him. Racism is a gaping wound in the body of Christ. Every time we succumb to it, we hurt Him.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this from a pulpit before – as a cradle Anglican I have no recollection of ever having heard it myself – but racism is a sin.  It’s a simple as that.  Our faith teaches us that racism is sin.   There may have been times in your life when you have heard passages from the bible about God’s equality, about the treatment of strangers and refugees, and simply been allowed to imagine that those words didn’t condemn racism. But they did.  They always did.

But there’s none so blind as those that won’t see, no one so deaf as those that won’t hear.  We built sin into our culture for centuries so we could pretend it wasn’t sin – we just shrugged and called it ‘the way things are’.

What I say to you now is not fashion or wokeness –  there is only and has only every been equality under Christ for all people. That our church has made some people more equal than others is our sin.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

And there are no sins we are told it is OK for us to hang onto because we like them, we’re used to them, or they make us comfortable.  God’s way is God’s way.  God taught us that it is wrong to steal, and the laws of our nations eventually caught up with that.  God taught us not to kill, and the laws of our nations eventually caught up with that. God teaches us that we are created equal in God’s sight, fearfully and wonderfully made, each one of us created with equal love. God’s intention for every one of us is love, expressed ultimately in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Shall we catch up now?

As I heard Paul Boateng speak of the gaping wound in the body of Christ what I heard was a rallying cry, not to be sunk by the weight of our sin, but to repent and to be restored in the full risen body of Christ.

Such restoration can only come through repentance and action. The wound cannot be healed if we want to pretend it isn’t there and that we have no part in it.  It can only be healed if we have the courage in Christ to face things done in the past, things done in the present, things done in our name and to our advantage, things we have been blind to but we must now chose to see.

Let me take you back to Botshelo, back in Botswana. Perhaps around your age, perhaps around the age of your mother or daughter.  Caring for her family on less than £3 a day.  What has this average Anglican to do with you and me today?  I hope she will remind us not to always put ourselves, our experience, our voice, our assumptions in the centre of everything.  And let me be clear, with a congregation before me as diverse as this – I am talking about the de-centring of white voices, and the need for all to be heard.  I hope she will remind us that we have more in common with our brothers and sisters in Christ of all nations than we have with those who would deny our common humanity and equality under God.  I hope that she is a reminder of the ways in which as Corinthians warns us, we contradict ourselves.

We proclaim Christ raised from the dead.  Maybe quietly in the street and loudly in here in the words of our hymns.  But if we behave in ways that exploit, ignore, stigmatize, stereotype and limit our brothers and sisters whose skin is not white…. we are contradicting ourselves, making fools and hypocrites of ourselves, and a lie of our gospel.

Christ has been raised from the dead, for you, for me, for Botshelo. For every person who has ever experienced racism because of what we have done, or because of what we have failed to do to make a fair and equal world.

I urge you today not to sink under the weight of sin into denial, fear or inaction. I urge you to be curious about difference, with Christ’s courage to seek out what is unfamiliar. I urge you to engage with stories, histories and points of view that are different from your own.  It is only in facing together what has been and imagining together the Kingdom as God sees it, that this wound can be healed.  Amen.

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