Sermon Preached at HT Brussels on Sunday 16th Feb 2020: Romans 8, 18-25; Matthew 6, 25-34.
The Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan (Senior Chaplain – Athens, Greece)
Jesus says in the gospel this afternoon. ‘Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” ‘*The reason is because, in Jesus advice, it is the non-believers who strive for these things and God knows we need them. *So what is it we should be worrying about – worry first about the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
It all seems to be a simple message. Yet if you are desperately in need of food, or a drink, or something to wear, especially against a cold February climate in Northern Europe, you would be forgiven for perhaps seeking food drink and a blanket before thinking about more spiritual things, like the Kingdom of God.
We live in a world with many deep and difficult challenges. Many of you might have real challenges in your lives – food, drink, warm clothing, a roof over your head, and the dignity of working for an income rather than begging for it.*
I am the priest in one of Europe’s great city’s – though often if feels as if it is more an eastern city. *Anyway it is in the European Union, and is the first country in Schengen that you arrive at if you have come from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, or if you have come up from East Africa, from Sudan, or Somalia.
The route is mostly through Turkey, and some of the Greek islands are only a few kilometres away from the Turkish coastline – islands like Lesbos, or Samos. *These are tiny islands, and are ill equipped for the many migrants and refugees who find their way into Europe. *They are in search of a better life, or an escape from continual warfare, or political or religious persecution. Many men have had to leave parents, wives, children and businesses behind. Others have nothing left to leave behind.
Some of you may understand very personally what I am describing and others will have some second hand experience of it. From the refugee camps many are transferred to the Greek mainland, or make their own way there. There are areas of Athens where the streets are dominated by those who are seeking to live their lives in a better way. Mostly they are people with no legal papers, so are illegally in Greece.
There is a new Greek government – it is more right wing than the previous one. Before being elected they promised that they would take a tough line on illegal migrants.
Unlike many governments that say anything just to get elected, this government seems to mean what is says. The police have been clearing out squats – families, people of the same ethnicity seeking safety in the same abandoned apartment, pregnant women, or women with young children – all of these cleared out of their homes and told to go. Buses are laid on to transport them to refugee camps – camps that are miles from shops, school, any chance of jobs, and very limited transport. Does any of this ring bells with any of you?
‘Don’t worry about your food, or your drink or what you will wear’
This is language that perhaps suits better for the affluent, for those who have security, for those who know where the next meal is coming from, or the next pay cheque. By the way – this is a real gospel challenge to people such as this. These words though are a different challenge to those who have little or nothing, for having food, water and clothing are real necessities.
We have to be honest and say that the gospels challenge all of us. We are all equally challenged by our faith in Jesus Christ, who in his early life with his parents was also a refugee in Egypt. This same Jesus persistently preaches against the problems that wealth brings. He acts always in favour of the poor and the powerless. Yet he is the same Christ for rich and poor alike, and we each have to apply his words to our own circumstances.
The world I am describing in Greece, the reality of migrant people, people on the move, for whatever reason is replicated in other parts of the world. These are perhaps less well known parts of the world, but many of the reasons for migration are the same wherever we are. It seems at times as if the whole world has gone mad as people lose their lives crossing the Mediterranean while wealth seems to favour more and more people, especially those who already have it.
My wife and I had a holiday on one of our nearby Greek islands last July. It is a most beautiful island, as so many of them are. Docked in the small harbour of the main town on this island a sailing yacht turned up one day; three glorious masts with automatically controlled sails.* We walked round one day to have a closer look. She was built recently in Turkey, but registered in Malta. She is called the Maltese Falcon. My wife looked up the vessel on Google. My friends, you and I could hire the Maltese Falcon for a week. It is only €740,000,00 (for one week). The world has gone mad. How many dinghies sailing from the North African coast, full of desperate, trafficked people, might see this vessel sailing majestically past them.
St. Paul understood this madness that we create in our world. It is not new. For Paul the concern was global, cosmic, because Paul had come to believe in a Christ who is cosmic. He had come round to understand that Christ was in the Creation as God was making everything in heaven and on earth.* In making all of this God saw that ‘it was good’. Goodness dwells in the Creation, because the Creation mirrors the creative and redemptive characteristics of God.*
Thanks be to God for the glory of Creation. Thanks be to man for spoiling it! When he writes to the early Christian church in Rome, Paul has a superb insight – it is perhaps a strange insight for a man to have, though we should never gender-stereotype. However in his day, which was much more patriarchal, St. Paul writes to the Roman Christians about child birth.
He likens the creation to the womb. He likens our sad stewardship of creation as the pain that a woman has to go through during labour. He likens our birth as being set free form bondage and decay. We have been waiting for this day, each and every one of us. It is the day when each of us discover our life in the freedom of Christ, who is the new Creation. The Christian enterprise – the Christian project – is to live in hope, the hope of Christ. The tangible benefits of this hope are not always apparent – not always tangible – not always yet in our grasp. Paul tells us that hope that is seen is not hope, and that we wait in hope with patience for what we have not seen. This is a remarkable passage of Paul’s correspondence to the Roman church. *‘If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’
If we return then to the words of Jesus in our gospel reading maybe now we get some sense of what Christ is saying about the Kingdom of God.* Each of us must work for the Kingdom – but even more importantly we must all work together for the kingdom.
The call of the church is to point people to the glory of God in worship; but also to point the demands of the kingdom. The church and the kingdom cannot be separated. One must reflect the other. If together we all seek first the kingdom of God then the Creation itself will be transformed and none of us will have to worry about what we will eat, or what we will drink, or what we will wear.
All those desperate, frightened and vulnerable adults in Athens, and in all our major cities and towns, will know Christ, because his followers, his church, will feed them, offer them drinks, and ensure that they are clothed.
This is the fulfilment of the kingdom – the kingdom of hope. Until we get there, of course, we will have to experience the birth-pangs until the new Creation in Christ is born in each of us.