Psalm 98; Luke 21:5-19
St Barbara’s; 13.11.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
The last few days, indeed, the last few months have been tumultuous ones.
Few would have thought at the beginning of the year we would be seeing a vote for Brexit or a Donald Trump presidency.
Some are ecstatic, others are shocked and perturbed. But no one can fully predict what it means for our future.
I confess to having been saddened and appalled at the tenor and the quality of political discourse both in this country and more particularly in the United States in recent months. But one of the clear messages coming through from Brexit and the US Presidential election is that for a very significant number of people, perhaps even for the majority of people who voted for change, there is a feeling of alienation, a feeling that government and other institutions do not understand or care about them, the ordinary people. For people in America to vote in such large numbers for a candidate so clearly flawed – indeed one post-election poll found that even of those who voted for Trump, 20% felt he lacked the necessary temperament to be president – suggests a level of grievance and hurt that must be taken seriously. People clearly feel let down. They want change at any cost. And those are legitimate concerns.
But there has also been an undertone to these votes for change that has been less legitimate. We have seen it here in the violence towards Poles and other EU citizens after the Brexit vote. And we have seen it in the levels of hatred and hostility aroused in America, the deepening of the racial divides in a country which only eight years ago elected its first black President.
And if the future seems uncertain now, project forward another four years, and think what the future could be like then. What happens if the anti-establishment candidates and campaigns fail to deliver (and it does seem hard to imagine how all the promises made by Brexiteers or by Trump in the States can be delivered upon)? What happens then? Who will the alienated, the aggrieved turn to then?
Does the implicit racism of much political debate in recent months turn to explicit racism? Does it become legitimate to offer people a panacea based on national and racial purity? We may not be as far from the extremism of the 1930s as we would like to think, and on this day of all days, we need little reminder where such attitudes led us then.
So as we look ahead to a deeply uncertain future, what does the Christian faith have to say to us today?
Firstly, our Christian faith encourages us to look back and give thanks for what has been achieved in the past.
In the Psalm we read this morning, the writer of the Psalm encourages his readers to remember the goodness and faithfulness of God and give thanks. “Sing to the Lord for he has done marvellous things.” The Christian faith has done that ever since, and in particular in remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we give thanks for the amazing gift of God’s love for us, and for his defeat of death itself. And today, Remembrance Sunday, is a day when we can look back to more recent times, and give thanks for the lives of those who were willing to sacrifice their lives so that others could live lives of freedom. Their sacrifice is of great significance, and it is right we remember them.
Secondly, the Christian faith encourages us to look forward with hope, knowing that justice will one day prevail. We are not sure as we look ahead what a Trump presidency will mean for peace, or whether the EU will hold together. The old certainties are no longer so certain any more. But the Christian faith proclaims an eternal truth: that conflict and injustice will not last forever. A day will come when justice and peace will reign. The psalmist writes: “God will come to judge the world with justice and the peoples with equity.”
For three years back in the early 1990s I lived in the black South African township of Soweto during the last years of apartheid. I saw my friends suffer terrible abuse and injustice. But what gave them the hope to keep on living, and fighting for what was right, was the knowledge that injustice would not be swept under the carpet forever. There would be a day of justice, a day of reckoning, and life and peace would prevail. The Christian faith gives us hope that in the midst of the uncertainties that we face, there is the promise of a better, truer world.
And thirdly, if we are to look back and give thanks for those good things of the past, if we are to look forward and gain hope from the promise of a better future, the Christian faith also calls us, in the words of our Gospel reading this morning, to stand firm and stand for what is right in the present.
Remembrance Sunday reminds us of those who have done that in the past. But it is our calling to stand for peace and justice today. In a world where there is much alienation, a world where on both extremes of the political divide greater legitimacy is being given to racist and divisive rhetoric, we are called to a different way – a way of love. We are called to build communities where respect, not enmity, marks our discourse; where a commitment to justice, not self-advancement, marks our actions; where humility and love, not envy and resentment, mark our attitudes.
It is perhaps a challenge beyond all of us, just as the disciples must have felt it was a challenge beyond them too as they faced the challenges, the turmoil, the persecution, that Jesus foretold they would face. But in God’s strength, as we pray to him for help, as we live out his love in action, we may find, as those early disciples did, that by standing firm we will gain life, for ourselves, but also for those around us too.
So as we look to an uncertain future, let us turn to God to:
- give thanks for the sacrifices of Christ, and of others, in the past;
- to gain a sure foundation of hope for the future;
- and to find the strength to stand for what is right in the present.