These words are part of what is termed Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Seek first the kingdom of God. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today
Imagine Jesus sharing reflections with people as he sat on a hillside. Many were there with their anxieties. They were living in times of Roman occupation and oppression. They were living in fear, worried about their future, and looking for wisdom. They will have sought help.
We could imagine we are sitting with Jesus on Wincobank Hill with our anxieties.
What did Jesus say to the people around him? Read and study the whole of “the sermon on the mount”. To understand the words of Matthew 6:34 read the words that precede them in the rest of Chapter 6. There are words about modesty in lifestyle, and not stockpiling for the future. The words in verses 25-33 centre on handling anxiety, and conclude with the words in verse 34. The wisdom is, do not be overly anxious about the future, live in the present by clear values.
There are three pieces of wisdom that precede the words in verse 34 and illuminate them. There is a simplicity in these words. Some may consider them simplistic, but they contain depth.
First: “Look at the Birds”. You don’t have to travel far for this. Just look out of the window. Listen to the bird song. If you want to develop the looking, get a good pair of binoculars to help. There are many resources to identify them, not least by their song. They work and play, and are melodious.
Two: “Consider the Lilies”. I like the word “consider”. It suggests pay close attention, study, be inquisitive, explore, appreciate. There is immense beauty in lilies, visitors to them like bees and butterflies, and wider nature.
Spend some time with birds and plants in your garden or travel further if you are able to. Time with nature offers nurture, nourishment, rest, refreshment and time to reflect. It can help to clear and still the mind and determine what is important. Getting close to soil can be healing. It is full of life. All people of all ages can wonder at the majesty, magic and mystery of creation.
Three: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Direct your life by this rule. By rule I do not mean instruction, but way of life. To be a follower of Jesus is to “consider” and live by this rule. Jesus prayed “your Kingdom come” expressing his high priority and hope. Jesus is encouraging his followers to put their lives and anxieties into the wider context of the wellbeing God desires for all people.
Jesus directs his teaching anxiety about the future with words about how to live day by day. Seek first…
The words of verse 34 are not about fatalism, simply accepting destiny, or just leaving everything to God. There is a basis to them. It has been suggested that the Gospel writer added the words “so, do not be anxious about tomorrow”. Whoever is to be credited, these words make sense and hold gospel wisdom in the context of the Sermon on the Mount.
Make the most of each day. Live one day at a time. Appreciate good things around you. Seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God, “and all these things will be given to you as well”.
Inderjit Bhogal, 3 May 2020. Words shared in Sunday morning worship with Wincobank Chapel Congregation
This article can be downloaded for use here All documents on this topic are located here
On 15 May is the annual Conscientious Objectors Day when we remember those who refused to join the war.
With others I give thanks for all those who give their lives for justice and peace, and pray for a world without war and violence.
With the whole world at present, in our times of coronavirus, I give thanks for all those who work to provide care, prayer and healing.
I give thanks for all those who have upheld the witness to non-violence and peace. I find inspiration in them.
Today with the Corrymeela Community I especially give thanks for Ray Davey who was a prisoner in World War 2, and was released on 8th May 1945, and I will conclude my offering with a prayer written by Ray on 10th June 1944.
I want to begin with a prayer I wrote on 31 January 2020 as the UK determined to leave the EU which has at least tried to maintain peace in Europe.
PRAYER FOR OUR TIMES
Holy God Creator of the universes, the heavens and the earth. You make all people in your image; You know the hurts and hopes of us all; Your presence is deep within us and around us. Holy are your ways and holy is your name. For all the ways in which We assault and abuse your image in us, and in your creation around us Forgive us For seeking the best for ourselves but not others, and so often at the expense of others Forgive us That our highest ideals are marred by our selfishness Forgive us For our ways and words that bruise and break relationships, households, congregations, communities, neighbourhoods and nations Forgive us For the inhumanity, inhospitality, hatred, wars and violence Which destroy homes and displace people Forgive us For the inhumane, inhospitable and hate filled treatment of people seeking sanctuary, and of refugees Forgive us Holy God Bring us and the world to end hatred, war, and violence, and always to build cultures and communities of healing, hospitality and justice Where all are welcome, valued, belong equally, and have sanctuary and well-being. Strengthen us to work with you to heal hurts, keep hope alive, to make all things new, and never to tire of seeking justice and peace. In the Name of Christ.
For a reading I offer only one verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and it is from Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I came to Ireland in my younger days to meet people I admired, including the leaders of Corrymeela. I looked up to them all, especially Ray Davey the founder of Corrymeela.
I recall once sitting on a wall by the Croi with Ray Davey. I was talking to him about an idea growing in my mind about Sanctuary for refugees.
In typical form Ray said, “If you have an idea you must incarnate it. Go and do it”. I did, and have seen sanctuary grow as a movement in Britain and Ireland and beyond, and I am thankful to Ray for his encouragement.
Ray is an inspiration for me because he stands out in a world littered with the debris of war as a peace maker. He never gave in to war and violence. He remained constant in his objection to war and in his work of building relationships of respect and trust.
Ray was a prisoner of war and kept diaries which he published. I have a copy signed by Ray and Kathleen that Ray gave me when I visited them on 26 September 2005.
Ray used his confinement in a prison camp positively and learned the importance of human community as he brought prisoners together for prayer, and how relationships sustain the human spirit in difficult times.
He wrote that “love is at the root of all things, not force and hate” (War Diaries, page 175). Ray stressed the need to live with this attitude consistently.
He wrote of “the sacrament of social workers”, of service, modelled in Jesus washing feet. “A revolutionary idea of leadership” noted Ray, “one of the master touches of his life” (War Diaries, page 211).
This experience he used as a leader and theologian while he was University Chaplain twenty years after he left prison, and worked with the wisdom and enthusiasm of young people to lay the foundations of Corrymeela Community and its work over the last 55 years or so.
Ray used his solitude to deepen his relationship with God, a communion from which nothing and no one could separate him. He was a man of deep prayer. Ray’s prayers reveal his deepest hopes and desires.
Only one of Ray’s prayers in his diaries make it into his book The War Diaries. It is on page 202. He prays that his life will be an “instrument fit” for God’s greater service.
I had the privilege of reading through Ray’s actual diaries when I visited him on 11th November 2010. I was particularly fascinated by his prayers and wrote down three of them into my own diary. I will use these prayers to close this meditation in a couple of minutes.
Prayers reveal our deepest hopes and desires.
What are you praying for in your time of confinement?
It seems to me that the whole world has one common prayer at present. Everyone is praying that a cure for coronavirus may be found soon, and for healing. No one is immune from Covid-19. We all want anyone who is hurting to be healed.
I dislike the use of war terminology in relation to Covid-19 like “enemy” and “battle”. We should talk instead about healing and hope. Be positive in your language.
Ray’s War Diaries close with important lessons (page 222). He concludes, “the things that make wars and unhappiness are not just Hitlers and Mussolinis, but are things in our own lives – greed, pride, dishonesty, lack of consideration. If we are to overcome these things, we must become different ourselves”.
Ray incarnated his ideas. The Corrymeela Centre was opened in October 1965 for “all people who are of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and to work together for the good of all..”
Let me close by sharing with you lessons I have learned from Ray’s time in confinement, they are valid for our communion in times of coronavirus:
Do all you can, within your restrictions, to bring people together and build community
Love is the root of all things, not force and hate. Incarnate love in your lives
Never take pride in the humiliation of others. The sacrament of leadership is modelled in the humility of service as seen in the ministry of Christ
Invest in instruments and efforts of healing. Put away words and weapons of violence, hate and harm
Deepen your relationship with God. Devote more time to prayer
So, I will close with a prayer written and said by Ray in prison.
O God of all ages, we know that we live in momentous days, days of destiny and change.
Today we look to the world, we think of all that happens there.
Humbly and in faith we commit our cause to thee.
We confess our wrongs and evils, as a nation and as individuals.
We admit our part, and we accept our blame for this disordered and shattered world.
Be with all who take part in the struggle, endue them with patience, courage and crown their efforts with success.
May all the nations learn the folly, uselessness and senselessness of war.
And in thine own good time may a just and lasting peace be born from the ashes and destruction of so many lands and lives.
Give us the determination to live in patience and faith until the day of our freedom.
Breathe in us anew the burning resolve to fashion a society that shall think more of the things that bind men together than those that keep them apart.
Give us the will to raise a new community, God centred and God controlled.
Give us the practical willingness to plan the remaking of our own homes and the rededication of our lives, so that our land may be built on the solid basis of love and trust.
O God of our captivity, whose hand has held and sustained us through this weary journey,
Be with us now in these days of suspense and waiting.
As thou hast been our guide and strength in the past strengthen us now.
Give us the quiet mind of patience and confidence.
We remember thou hast said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth thee”.
Father who hast created the nations as all members of the great human family, cause the terrible strife to cease.
And when it comes to an end may reason, justice and foresight prevail.
Cleanse our hearts from the spirit of revenge and hatred and reprisal.
Give us the spirit of charity and forgiveness.
We would reaffirm our belief in love as the centre of life.
Give us the determination and faith so to live as individuals and nations that wars may be outlawed forever.
RAY DAVEY PRAYER DATED 10 JUNE 1944
A Blessing Creative God Breathe your breath of life on us. Forgiving God Breathe your words of peace on us. Empowering God Breathe your spirit of strength on us. Amen.
Inderjit Bhogal, Former Leader and CEO of Corrymeela
8 May 2020
Note: Davey, R.( 2005). The War Diaries: From Prisoner-of-War to Peacemaker. Belfast, Brehon Press
This article can be downloaded for use here All documents on this topic are located here
NOMAD is an organisation that has been working in Sheffield since 1989, to my knowledge. NOMAD began in 1989 when Jacky who had experienced homelessness with children, and Barrie who had experienced homelessness as a single man, made a commitment to form an agency to assist homeless people in Sheffield. Jacky and Barrie commenced their work without any resources, from the kitchen of a Council maisonette. My understanding, from conversations with Jacky and Barry, is that the name NOMAD originated in their experiences of receiving the answer “no” so often to their requests for help that it drove them “mad”, hence NOMAD!
One of the first initiatives that Jacky and Barrie took was to organise a Christmas meal in the maisonette for people who found themselves roofless over the festive period. They were overwhelmed but not surprised by the numbers  who turned up. They also found accommodation for six individuals.
The story of NOMAD caught the attention of many of us who were concerned about homelessness. NOMAD had already illustrated that when the will is there much support can be given even when resources are tiny. A small group of us from different voluntary and religious organisation met with representatives of NOMAD on 5.9.90 and 1.10.90 to consider the provision of support for homeless and roofless people over the Christmas – New Year period of 1990/91. The meetings identified the need for premeses, finance, provisions and volunteer support. The premises at Carver Street Wesley Methodist Church [now an Australian theme Bar] were offered as a Night Shelter. A building [Club 81] was also offered as a day centre.
As a result the group calling itself SHOC (Sheffield Homeless Open Christmas) launched an appeal for £10,000, and enough volunteers to provide shelter, friendship, food and clothing for those who would otherwise find themselves isolated, lonely, and even roofless over the festive season. The response was excellent. We received £15,000, over a hundred volunteers offered to help, and there were many contributions of food, clothing and bedding. Over the Christmas period, up to 25 people took shelter each night at Carver St Wesley, and up to 80 people made use of the day centre.
We had to find an alternative name to SHOC since there was another organisation using the same title, and after some discussion came up with Homeless and Roofless at Christmas [HARC]. The word Roofless was changed to Rootless soon.
I know, from Minutes of meetings, that the initial group of people who started HARC included: Inderjit Bhogal, Briony Broome, Margaret Chamings, Phyllis Cooper, Philip Drake, Rachel Frith, Howard Long, Bob Townrow, Judith Tucker, Barrie Sefton and Chris Sissons. Numerous others joined in later, of course, but these are the founding members. Jacky Hague never came along to meetings. We appointed Margaret Chamings as the Coordinator, and I was appointed the first official Chair of HARC.
Other people who were very hard workers with HARC included Captain Alan Turner of the Church Army, Jenny Hales, Mavis Percy and Bill Emmingham. There are, of course, many others and the problem of starting to list names is that some are left out.
We worked as small groups under the titles of: Premeses, Finance and Provisions, and Support & Publicity.
Each group worked very conscientiously, and with great care. Well before the days of Risk Assessments, we paid close attention to Fire, Health and Safety needs. Each volunteer went through training sessions. No one was allowed to work with HARC without proper training.
As it developed, HARC donated some of the surplus money to other organisations working alongside homeless and rootless people in Sheffield. HARC also initiated and sponsored a new Sunday centre which also started life in the Carver St Wesley buildings.
We adopted a Constitution, and began to take the shape of an organisation.
I believed that the work of HARC would be quite temporary and that there would soon be long term provision, including adequate housing for all. I was convinced that
the kind of initiatives taken by groups like HARC will not eradicate need. Only adequate housing and affordable homes would do that.
In 1990 we made a financial appeal for £10,000 and received £15,000. In 1991 we made a financial appeal for £16,000, and received £24,000. In 1992 we appealed for £20,000 and met our target again. In addition to money there were generous gifts of food, clothing, bedding and premises…. And most important of all people gave themselves – as volunteers, over 100 each year. This response said to me that the people of Sheffield were disturbed and bothered by the levels of homelessness among us, and wanted to support any initiatives being taken to stand alongside homeless people.
Twenty years ago I said in speeches that it is unjust that anyone in Britain is homeless; that there are sufficient resources within this country, even in the depths of a recession – or depression – to end homelessness. The levels of homelessness in this country are scandalous. The kind of initiatives taken by groups like HARC up and down the country are good, but they will not end homelessness – only the provision of adequate and affordable housing will do that. What we can offer is compassion and friendship. We will do what we can within our human and material means. We will support the work of organisations such as Shelter at the national level, and NOMAD at the local level which campaign alongside homeless people for justice. While the initiatives taken by groups like HAC will no eradicate homelessness, they do illustrate the concern that exists over homelessness, and what can be done even where resources are small. The City-wide response to HARC has brought people from different religious political persuasions to stand alongside the homeless and form a deep fellowship with those who find themselves homeless and rootless.
Justice requires the provision of adequate and affordable housing. It is a basic human right, for each human being, to have a home, a permanent home. It is to government, at local and national level, that we look for such justice, and meeting of basic human rights.
We all have to do what we can, and we can all do something to achieve justice.
Sadly twenty years on we are in an economic recession again.
For twenty years HARC has offered support and worked with homeless and rootless people in our city. HARC does what can be done within limited resources. In no way is HARC has provided a transitional, resting place, warmth and food and friendship. The Sunday Centre [now based in Victoria Hall], has continued to provide a service. NOMAD continues to provide an essential service.
The need remains. The situation is more complex. Those needing the support of HARC and the Sunday Centre include destitute people seeking Sanctuary among us.
I don’t know where Jacky and Barry are now, but they’ve left a lasting legacy in Sheffield.
Have you ever found yourself asking what do a modern city and the Bible really have in common? How does faith fit in with how we live our lives in a city which is changing as fast as York?
In previous years CoRE, the York City Centre Churches Care and Development Trust played host to the Bishop of Selby, Martin Wallace who has talked about faith and the city of York. Last year the talks were so well attended even the standing room was full. The themes clearly touched a chord with the audience.
For the 2010 Lent talks five guest speakers offered their views on faith in society today. Each explored a different topic covering volunteers, the traditions of feasting and fasting, commerce, education and health.
The Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE spoke on the 1st March exploring the traditions of feasting and fasting.
The vigil is the initiative of Religious Leaders in Beeston, Leeds. It has been organised by the Yorkshire and Humber Faiths Forum.
The YHFF was established last year to:
• Advance the contribution of faith communities in the Yorkshire and Humber Region
• Encourage and educate faith communities to work together in matters of policy, strategy and action
• Challenge all forms of discrimination and injustice against persons or groups of people, particularly on the grounds of religious belief.
The vigil will bring together members of local worshipping communities- Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, for silent prayer. Prayer is common to all faiths. We will meet outside the Mosque in Stratford Street to express solidarity with Muslim neighbours as they gather for afternoon prayers.
The vigil will express solidarity and respect of people of Faiths for each others’ faith.
It is important for people of all faiths and beliefs to publicly show that we stand together, want to work together to build relations of mutual respect and trust, and not allow those who misrepresent our faiths, or pour scorn on them, or convey hatred- to divide or separate us.
The vigil is held in the context of a number of events that have occurred over the last 2-5 days:
• The Religious and Racial Hatred Bill coming before Parliament
• The BNP Leaders in Court in Leeds
• The publishing of outrageous cartoons in some Media.
All these events highlight particularly issues around the right to freedom of speech.
There are a number of competing rights and there is a duty upon us all to exercise our rights responsibly:
• All of us have the right to freedom of speech
• All have the right in a multi faith society to practice their faiths and to have the freedom to worship and pray
• All have the right to live without being routinely scapegoated for all ills- as Muslims are being just now
• All have the right to protection from danger.
We cannot give priority to just one right.
There are rights, but we all have responsibilities also to show respect for what is holy for each other and in each other.
It is important to do all we can to promote respectful, good, open debate, to challenge injustice and preconceived opinions, and to do this without vitriol and verbal or physical violence against each other.
We all have a duty to avoid misrepresenting each other. We can do this by learning, and being more informed, about different faiths and beliefs.
We need to work with each other to build a society in which we can all live and contribute to the welfare of all.
Words read at the Vigil and shared on interviews with Radio Leeds, Radio Aire, BBC News Online, Asian Network BBC, Yorkshire Post, Leeds Evening Telegraph, Calendar News ITV and BBC Look North [3,4 and 5 February 2006].
Drumming and dancing had led the enthronement of John Sentamu as Archbishop of York. Having witnessed this last year, I returned this month to express solidarity with his quiet vigil of seven days of prayer and fasting for “lasting peace in the Middle East”.
Tourists were queuing to enter York Minister as I arrived. “I’ve just come to pray with Archbishop John,” I told the attendant who directed me to St. John the Evangelist Chapel.
About 50 people were seated in the small side chapel. A recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto lamenting the “futility of War” filled the temple. At the front of the chapel there was a small tent held up by ropes tied on to prayer stools, Microphone Stand and the Altar Table. No danger of any storms blowing this tent over. Kneeling in front of the tent, facing the altar, Archbishop John resplendent in his purple attire. Beside him two small old Sunday school chairs, a prayer stool and also his renowned drum which provided the base for a small black cross. I took a seat close to the Archbishop. I joined in prayer using a sheet with prayers for peace commended by the Archbishop.
At the close of his hourly round of prayers signalled by the conclusion of Elgar’s Concerto, the Archbishop rose to his feet, moved to a small side table and had a drink of water – his sole food intake during his seven day fast.
A queue forms as people come to speak with him and he stood beside the tent listening to them.
I reflected on the symbol of the tent and all it represents in Scripture. A tent was seen to be God’s dwelling place [Ps.78:60], and it was at “the tent of the meeting” where “the Lord would speak” with Moses [Ex. 33:7-9]. The Johannine insight summed up as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” [John 1:14] is often pictured as God pitching a tent to live amongst people.
I was just beginning to turn my thoughts to those whose homes and lives have been destroyed in Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan when a woman came and sat beside me. She leaned towards me and asked “Are you from Iraq?” “No” I replied. A few minutes later she enquired, “Perhaps you are from Lebanon?” “No” I replied again. She then went to talk with the Archbishop. He just listened too, nodding and smiling, and shaking her by the hand to bring the encounter to a close.
When the queue had finished I went to greet the Archbishop. I thanked him for his leadership and prayers and asked him how he was. “I am in good shape. Amazingly I don’t feel hungry. This suggests I had been overeating before,” he said and continued, “God is god. Thank you for coming and for all your encouragement. I have been amazed at all the expressions of support.”
I asked him if I could pray with him. “Thank you” he said, and immediately turned towards the altar and started to pray for me, and for peace in the Middle East.
Then I prayed for the Archbishop: “Thank you Holy God for your Servant John for his leadership and for his prayers.” And continued with a prayer I had formed in the Minster a few minutes earlier:
“Holy God You call us all
to love our neighbours as we love ourselves,
to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, and,
to love the stranger, for we all know what it is to be a stranger.
You call us to forgive one another.
Show us how to walk your way,
lead us ever by your truth, and,
bless us always with your life.
In the name of Christ.
We concluded with an embrace.
The clock struck again. It was 2:45pm.
The Archbishop returned to his seat to prepare for the next hourly act of prayer.
Silent prayer continued.
Just after the clock had struck three the Archbishop moved to a microphone beside him and spoke into it. “This is John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. I ask you for your attention.”
The tourists around the Minister stopped in their tracks. A hush came over the whole place as people observed silence. The Archbishop then prayed aloud for “lasting peace in the Middle East; for all those who have been hurt or made homeless.” He invited those gathered before him to use the prayer sheet provided to join him in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi as adapted by John Sentamu, and the Lord’s Prayer, concluding with the Universal Prayer of Peace and a saying from The Prophet used daily in prayer by Muslims.
Then he called on people to continue in the attitude of prayer for 7 minutes as Elgar’s Concerto was played again. At the close of the music the Archbishop rose to his feet and went out of the Chapel.
Before leaving the Chapel I gave thanks again for Archbishop John and his ministry of prayer and fasting. I observed his drum – now silent, giving way to the sounds of quiet prayer.
On Christmas Day 1497 Vasco Da Gama first reached the South Eastern shores of South Africa. He named the area Natal. It is now called Kwazulu Natal. Recently, I visited the area on behalf of Christian Aid to explore issues around HIV/AIDS in conversations with theologians, including those living with HIV/AIDS.
On the day I arrived in Pietermaritzburg, as I shared a meal with staff from the School of Religion and Theology in the University of Kwazulu Natal, the challenges raised by HIV/AIDS began to confront me. Bongi Zengele quoted Mark: 4: 37-38.
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Bongi said this Gospel story aroused a lively debate as people living with HIV/AIDS discussed it in a Bible Study with her. “HIV/AIDS is the storm,” they said. “What gives us strength and removes some of our fear is the knowledge that Jesus is with us. It is the Church that seems to be asleep and not caring about the storm. It is time to wake up the Church.”
The storm in South Africa is extreme. UNAIDS estimates that, at the end of 2003 there were 5.3 million people in South Africa living with HIV/AIDS, 21.5% of the population. Nowhere is the storm worse than in Kwazulu Natal, where 37% of the population have been diagnosed HIV positive.
These are alarming figures. The Revd. Dr. Colin Jones, HIV/AIDS Programme Co-Ordinator, S. African Anglican Church said to me, “The exceptionality of HIV/AIDS requires an exceptionality of response. Nothing less will do.”
An exceptional response?
What would an exceptional response involve? It would begin by acknowledging that people living with HIV/AIDS enjoy the “Hermeneutical Privilege”. God’s will, way and word are discerned more clearly in those who tend to be dismissed as ‘victims’ and ‘the poor’. Recognising this, the Churches’ response would be distinguished not by frozen silence or frosty judgmental attitudes, but rather by a profound respect for and embrace of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Such a response would be consistent with Jesus’ style. Jesus was inclusive and refused to despise, judge or exclude those whom society rejected. When I met with a group of Zulu Christian women they immediately turned to the Gospel story where Jesus challenged judgemental leaders: “Let anyone among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John: 8:7.)
An exceptional response would go further, and display a readiness to listen to what people living with HIV/AIDS have to say. Betty Govinden Devarakshanam is a lay Pastor in the Anglican Parish of St. Aidan’s, Durban, and a senior lecturer in the Department of Education at the University of Durban. She said that people living with HIV/AIDS teach us about living and dying and suffering. Using Henry Nouwen’s phrase, she said that “the churches need to listen to the ‘wounded healers’ who can be prophetic voices to question the structures that keep HIV/AIDS in place.”
An exceptional response would be based on an understanding of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Methodist Church in Britain has produced a document entitled “The Body of Christ has AIDS.” Does Christ identify with us to the extent that His Body and Blood are HIV Positive? Phumzile Zondi is a member of staff in the School of Religion and Theology, University of Kwazulu Natal. She has disclosed her status as HIV Positive. Phumzile said, “ I need the Body and Blood of Christ to be HIV/AIDS free. I, as HIV Positive, need the Body and Blood of Christ to give me strength. I need to know that He stands with me, embraces me, holds me, loves me. I need the HIV/AIDS free Blood of Christ to make me whole.” The Body of Christ which is the Church may have HIV/AIDS. But the Body of Christ who is the Second Person of The Holy Trinity does not have HIV/AIDS. The Blood of Christ of which we partake at the Eucharistic Table is not HIV Positive.
Finally, an exceptional response would involve changing ourselves, as individuals and as churches. Colin Jones says that “fundamentally, HIV/AIDS latches on to our most basic needs for respect, embrace and fullness of life. It is not just about sex and individual behaviour. It is about how structures and institutions behave, especially churches. Churches must wake up to the fact that their patriarchal, hierarchical, parochial structures and theologies are destructive. If we do not wake up to these realities we will not be life giving.”
I left South Africa convinced that, as followers of Christ, we have no choice other than to wake up, and see his Natal Star.
Millions of people across Europe observed the three minute silence on Wednesday 5th January 2005 at Noon. I chose to join the silence in Castle Market, Sheffield. At 1200noon precisely a bell rang. Everyone stopped doing what they were doing. Shoppers stopped in their tracks. Stall holders stopped serving. The usual hubbub of the Market Place was hushed. The full three minute silence was kept. People of different ages, colours, cultures and creeds stood still and silent alongside each other. Language is no barrier in the eloquence of silence. This mark of respect for people of many backgrounds who died so far away in the Tsunami disaster, and survivors who continue to suffer, was deeply moving. We stood together like members of a global Family mourning the loss of loved ones. Tears were shed..
There is psychological trauma that follows tragedy. This is normal. It is expressed in shocked silence, denial, and anger which includes questions like why has this awful thing happened. There is also theological trauma. This is when religious belief sincerely held is shaken. It is well expressed in the words Jesus Christ spoke as he hung on a cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a real question. Most of us can identify with it. It is a real human experience.
This question is being raised and discussed widely at present.
The Tsunami Disaster began to unfold along the coasts of Asian and African countries as many people were celebrating the Christmas festival of giving and sharing, and focussing on the good news that God is with us. As the scale of the tragedy began to confront us there has been a phenomenal response of compassion and generosity. Photos and Video films taken by British and European tourists in Indonesia and Sri Lanka have made the Tsunami and its trail of death and destruction visible to us. Many questions have also been raised.
For example, how God could allow such destruction, death and suffering. Many ask how it can be possible to believe in the existence of God in the context of overwhelming tragedy. If God does exist has God abandoned us?
There is value in engaging with questions like these. Discussion is not about providing answers, but rather to provoke further exploration and clarification of the questions.
What kind of a God is it that “allows” suffering and tragedy, and who believes in such a God? Is God some remote, powerful Being, sitting on a “sapphire throne” and who by some obscure criteria chooses to intervene in earthly matters to prevent or promote particular events? Is God sometimes present with us and sometimes absent, if so how does God decide what to do? Where is God when not with us?
Human reaction to tragedy is often accompanied by the need to find reasons for it, and someone to blame. When there is no human culprit to point a finger at, it is not just a natural disaster – it must be an “act of God”. Insurance companies use this language. Does this practice not promote bad and irresponsible theology?
Biblical witness to God opens with a story of God creatively using the chaos that is there to make a new world. Here God does not cause the chaos or allow it but works in it and calls people to share in the task of caring and construction. In the New Testament, the sufferings of Christ, shows God who suffers with us. The chaos is there. The suffering is there. The insight is that God is there in it. Only a God who also suffers can help.
A horrible tragedy with a horrific loss of life and livelihood on a massive scale is before us. The response to it has been outstanding. It is an inspiration that people of all Faiths and those who profess no religious faith are coming together in acts of compassion working with those who need to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, and those who mourn the loss of loved ones.
There is a need now to build on the human compassion that has shown us that we can all make a difference. As the general public has led Governments to respond more positively to this tragedy, we remember that in other contexts 8000 people die each day from HIV/AIDS. 24000 people die each day from hunger. Poverty remains the biggest killer in the world. If Governments go on to also forgive debts and to eradicate poverty that would be a good long term outcome of the Tsunami Appeal. In 2005 the British Government will hold the presidency of the European Union and the G8 Summit of powerful nations. We can help by pressing the Government for positive global development. Faith and humanity are not judged by their capacity to explain God or good and evil but by their contribution to positively changing the world in favour of the poorest and those who hurt most.
IT WAS A LOVELY SPRING MORNING. I SAT BESIDE THE GANDHI STATUE JUST BEFORE A MEETING ON ANTI-SLAVERY AND WROTE THIS MEDITATION.
Flowers budding and breaking
None accept bondage of winter and soil,
But take life from these.
Where it wills.
Young people on the grass
– look up to the skies;
Older people bent over
– look down to the soil and earth.
A tree planted on 6th August
Honours the memory of the victims of HIROSHIMA.
A large rock is a tribute
“to all those who have established
And are maintaining their right
To refuse to kill.”
In their midst
Mahatma Gandhi keeps the pose of Samadhi,
An endless silent vigil
But whispering words of wisdom
To all who will listen:
“Accept no bondage,
Stay on the freedom track.
Walk and work and pray with pride.
Chains of bondage will not
Hold you forever.
Winter will pass.
Life will burst forth again,
And bloom and grow and blow
In the wind.”
This question goes to the heart of the Creation Story where it is asserted that human beings are made “in the image of God” [Genesis 1:26-27], and pronounced “very good”. This means that each human being is of value and worth, and sacred – to be treated with respect. It means that there is one race, the human race, with all our diversity.
God is the source of the breath of life in all people. Human beings are blessed with freedom of movement [“fill all the earth”] and of choice [Gen 2:16-17]. This is what it is to be human and to be made in the image of God. It is about character as much as about physical appearance.
The Creation Story also acknowledges that as soon as there is human community, the issues of dominance and power come into play in human relationships. Perverted selfishness leads to self preservation at the expense of others. Man exploits woman. Brother over powers brother. [Genesis 3 and 4 ].
The question arises: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9].
Aristotle was later to write in his Politics:
“Humanity is divided into two: the masters and the slaves.”
Biblically this division is demonstrated in the stories of:
• Cain and Abel
• Shem/Japheth and Ham/Canaan
• Sarah and Hagar
• Isaac and Ishmael
• Joseph and his brothers
• Israel and Egypt/Babylon
It is a division that illustrates the developing power struggles and stories of domination and enslavement. Slavery is part of the biblical story [See for example the experience of Hagar [Genesis 9:16 ], of Israel in Egypt [ Exodus 1-12 ] and read the instructions given in Leviticus 25:39-46] and many of the slaves are women. These stories help us to remember that discrimination, racial hatred and religious bigotry is part of biblical witness. They are stories of human failings in the context of which we are led to reflect on God’s unfailing commitment and faithfulness to people and to make our own response.
These stories illustrate the meaning of sin, all that is done to deny freedom and the fullness of life to anyone. Sin is the active rebellion against God’s will and has devastating consequences.
In these stories can be traced the roots of contemporary divisions along the lines of colour, creed, class and caste.
JESUS AND SLAVERY
“In as much as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40
Jesus did not specifically address the issue of slavery but he had a lot to say about equality in relationships. He spoke against oppressive and domineering relationships.
Jesus said his Disciples are not to be characterised by oppressive/domineering relationships. How are relationships to be sustained without being oppressive/domineering? See Matthew 23:8-10, John15:15.
What example does Jesus’ own lifestyle reflect?
• Jesus is born in a stable. Luke 2.
• Jesus himself took upon himself the role of service. Luke 22:27.
• Jesus washed his Disciples’ feet. John 13.
• Jesus refused the temptation to glorify himself. Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13.
• Jesus rejected titles people tried to bestow upon him. John 6:15.
• Jesus is mocked, beaten and executed. Mark 14-16.
Jesus’ first Sermon, according to Luke, quoted the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
“…He has sent me to bring release to the captives…” [Luke 4:18-19]. Matthew records Jesus as saying: “…just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40. He also said people should let prospective slaves go free [Matthew 18:23-35].
The early Church remembered his style and reflected on it in a Hymn. Philippians 2:6-11. They also developed the theme of the “Body of Christ” [1 Corinthians 12:12-27] where all are members and belong.
The story of Jesus, his humble birth, his ministry of preaching the kingdom of God, of transformation, his passion, his crucifixion and resurrection helps us to remember the depths of the love of God; to reflect on God’s mission-a mission that desires freedom and the fullness of life for all, and to respond.
JESUS AND JOSEPH
Compare Psalm 105:17-22 and Philippians 2:6-11
In Psalm 105:17-22 Joseph prefigures the enslavement of Israel [Verses 23-45] that follows. Joseph is sold as a slave, “his feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron”…he is freed and becomes “lord” of the house and “ruler” of all the possessions, and teaches wisdom.
Philippians 2:6-11 follows this pattern to reflect on Jesus who takes a downwards journey, “taking the form of a slave”, and then is “highly exalted.”
In the Psalm and in Philippians liturgy is used to remember pivotal stories, reflect on them, and to seek a response.
READING THE BIBLE
It is important to consider the whole biblical witness. Some stories justify slavery, others challenge slavery. In Genesis 16:9 Hagar who is running away is told by the angel of God to “return” to her mistress to be her slave. St Paul recommended that slaves serve their masters “with fear and trembling.” The Epistle to Philemon the Apostle returned a fugitive slave, Onesimus, to his master.