Sermon 12 June 2016

Sermon for Sunday 12 June 2016, Westbourne Church

Trinity 3

In 1936 a boy called Harry Clarke crept out of school and joined a crowd of men gathering at the end of the road.

Harry had 14 brothers and sisters, two of whom did not survive. The family lived in two rooms. When you hear what comes next you might think that so many children was folly. But things do not always work out as planned and it is a simple law of nature that when populations, be they animal or plant, become threatened, they become more fertile and produce more offspring. You get your geraniums to flower by starving them. Stopping your onions from going to seed in a drought is a problem. A famine always raises the birth rate as many will die. And the gift of children ought not to be dependant on the size of one’s pocket.

Harry ran out of school and joined the men about to leave Jarrow and walk to London to hand in a petition. One or two of you will remember the ‘hunger marches’ from Jarrow, Merseyside and the Clyde. The Wall Street crash of 1929 had led, amongst other things, to the closure of Palmer’s shipyard on the Tyne. 80% of people in that area became unemployed. Harry comments that it was common to see bow-legged, knock-kneed and cross-eyed people - the effects of malnutrition.

The Jarrow march was blessed by the bishop but at the other end they were told that politically, nothing could be done. Things did not begin to look up until preparations for the Second World War brought some employment.

I read this once in a copy of 'The Big Issue'. The vendor warned me not to read page 39 as there was much swearing on it. When I passed him coming back the other way, he assured my he would be in church on Sunday to, “get stoned with Jesus.” In the same issue there is an article on get-rich-quick pyramid schemes and one which is becoming fashionable among the glitterati. Another is about teenagers being paid £15,000 to kill. Such is the world.

The collapse of another, seemingly permanent, High Street trader prompts the mind to look at history and work and justice and fairness and all that. Did the money just not come in? Were there just bad decisions made? Has the market changed more than anyone had realised?  Has something more been happening? To go back to Jarrow; Harry Clarke draws a strong parallel between the hunger marches of the 30s and what has been going on in more recent years. He says, “A few years ago young men and women were protesting against the World Trade Organisation.  Fundamentally we’re back to where we were in 1929, where international business is controlling the world irrespective of moral and ethical principles. You can push people so far, but there comes a point where they stand up for their rights and for justice. The hunger marches were about the poverty and unemployment brought about by the capitalist system. Here we have the international capitalist system doing basically and profoundly the same thing again. If they can pay barely subsistence wages and sack those in other countries, they will.”

It would be naive to say or think that all protesters have been there for the right reasons, many probably are simply on the lookout for a good bundle. It would be equally naive to think that a capitalist system is always corrupt. As we have seen it can be made to work and the alternative is just as open to abuse by fallen humanity. It’s also naive to think that it is easy to earn your living in this country today. Many jobs pay below the benefit threshold even for more hours than most would tolerate. Our thirst for ever cheaper food has led to farmers losing their livelihoods and even their lives. Many people work the sort of hours which threaten all their relationships and basic health simply to put a roof over their head. Savers demand more interest so borrowers have to pay more. Property owning for rent is booming so that the poorest have little hope of an adequate home. When I was a child and growing up our council house rent was set at a level most people could afford and it was regulated. There’s too much money in letting now for the people to matter much.

When we read St. Paul he bids us look at what in our lives is of God and God’s purpose and what is human. He draws on the ethical history of the Jews and Greeks, the cultures he was familiar with, one religious and one philosophical.  Christians become different, he says. Their lives become part of God. It follows that Christians are to live their lives and make their decisions on the basis of what God in Christ would have them do. And remember the system of Jubilee which Paul would also have in mind.  And as often with Paul he talks about being spiritual and just what that means. It is to question philosophy or we might say, the popular wisdom of the day. For we have ‘put on Christ’ - assumed his character to act like him in the world. In other words our spirituality is not measured by the amount of time we spend on our knees but by the quality of our relation with God measured in how we treat each other, especially the voiceless and powerless.

I usually watch the early morning news on the television. Every day there is an item about the Stock Exchange and the financial performance of the companies. One or two of the company names are familiar because I know someone who works there or have read about them. ‘Performing well’ is sometimes the comment. Well, yes, unless you work for them perhaps or live next door to the factory. Is it beyond our wit to devise a system where a company’s performance is measured by its just payment of wages and treatment of its surroundings?

When Jesus and the woman meet in the Pharisees house a highly coloured illustration pops up. Like another occasion Jesus cpommetns on she finds that what will work for her community healing is to give and she gives all that she has, the wealth of her body. Jesus uses that action to criticise those who thought they had got it right. 

In our giving is found the gift to us of God’s Holy Spirit. Giving which is not just the simple business of the putting of our hands into our pockets but the giving of our advantages and our knowledge and our wisdom and our systems. So that we can say without crossing our fingers, “Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial,’ without the stress falling on ‘us’.

© 2016 Frank Wright

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