SATA BHOGAL: Father, Brother, Son, Uncle, Friend



We are all here because Satnam, our dear Sata has died.

I want to start by expressing the sorrow of all the wider family to Aunty Ji, Supriya, Simran, Rai, Daniel, Purdy, Bally, Bindri, Nimba and all the family.

We are with you in your sorrow and pain.

Here we are 30 in this room, but many more online.

Thank you joining in today.

Your company is a great strength.

Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is special.

When someone dies, we are left with their story, and our memories of them.

It is important to tell the story and share our memories.

First hold out your arms like this, now do this (wrap around your shoulders), this is how Sata always greeted us, with a big hug.

Dekh lawo, chori, choric chale geya. He stole away from us quietly.

Koi bimari nahi si. He had no illness.

Galan karda, pishle door thani chup kar ke chale geya, khisk geya. Talking and conversing, he slipped away out of the back door.

Apni maa nu, apni patni, bachea nu, bhena-bhrava nu, andi-quandi nu nahi tung karna chohnda si. He did not wish you give any trouble to his family, friends and neighbours.

Koi smaj nahi ae rahi, ke ho ki geya. It is difficult to find meaning in what has happened.

Dukh de vich apa sare bethe ha. In pain we are seated.

Duur, duur bethe ha. We are seated in distance from  each other.

Mode laga ke ro nahi sakde. We cannot weep with each other, on each other’s shoulders.

Par dil apne nal-nal he, sath sada tuhade nal hae. But our hearts are one with each other, we give each other our company.

Ek batti apni bhug gaye hae, par odi Roshni nahi ghate ghi, naal rahe ghi. A bulb may have gone out, but nothing will remove the light of Sata.

Honsla rakhna, dil bhada kar ke rehna te ek duge di seva karni hae. Let us keep heart, and keep strong, and continue to serve each other.

Bhogla de vich pyar bohut hae, te aida hi pyar rave apna. There is a lot of love among the Bhogals, lets keep this love alive.

Sata dekhal ke geya sanu, pyar ki hunda, and kidan karida. Sata has shown us how to love, and what love is.

I have been asking family members for their special and best memories of Sata.

Sata siga sada shota Bhogal, sub ton vade dil wala, pyar wala. Sata was a young Bhogal, but he had a big heart, and lots of love.

I am old enough to remember Sata being born, I was 20 at the time.

I held him in my arms, I played with him.

Many of my memories of Sata are of him running around in 4 Park Hill Street, in the living room, in the landing, in the garden.

He ruled the stairs, here all the younger members of the family talked and played, with Sata at the centre of all his mates, Purdy, Nimba, Jita, Dala, Pappu, Pinx, Daniel, Jasdeep, Gian, Karam, Prem, Jivan, Liamarjit, Sunny, Aman, Kirthpal, Roopi, all the lads.

Sata was a kind of mentor for those a little younger than him.

He was their footie friend, shared his Megadrive with them.

I’ve just mentioned the lads.

The girls loved him too, Pommy, Goody, Pritpal, Moni, Sandeep, Poonam, Bibby, Michelle, Anjuli, Amber, Jassy. There are more girls who loved him than I can name.

Everyone loved Sata, young and old. Maa, Baap, behn, Bhra, Chaache, Chaachia, Maame, Maamiya, Masr, Masiya

Whether anyone thought of him and a dost or as a dushman, he only gave love.

He was the young Bhogal, but he was a man with a big heart, big love, for everyone.

He never looked at anyone as Dushman or Varry, he treated everyone well and with love and respect.

Sata loved his children above all, Simran, Rai and Daniel, and we know you loved him very much. He was very proud of you. He was a good father.

Sata also had a special bond with Kirthpal, and his dad Kal.

Sata worked with Kal fixing houses, boilers, cars.

Gian and Karam remember him fixing and decorating their room.

For a while he played dholaki like his dad in the Gurdwara.

At Langar, he served others before he ate.

The same at Sheddon Street.

He was a shota Shabba. He was like his dad.

Ao Ji. Come in.

Sat Siri Kal Ji.

Big smile.

Betho ji. Have a seat.

Cha pivo ji. Have some tea.

Happy days, happy memories.

So, of course, Sata was also a delivery man.

He managed drivers and deliveries with Hermes.

I still buy fish and chips from Five Ways Chilly in Rotherham where he delivered fish!

Sata greeted us all with rib breaking hugs.

We have all received regular WhatsApp messages from Sata, with greetings, photos, funny videos.

He regularly sent me photos from years ago, all special memories.

He had a fabulous, infectious laughter.

He cheered us up in every situation, made us laugh.

We can all learn this from Sata.

He was the heart and life and soul of every family gathering, viah-shadi (wedding), birthday party.

Drink in one hand, food in the other, music centre in front of him, blasting out from his room sized speakers, then he would take to the dance floor, and we would all dance with him.

I remember him at Pinx and Kiran’s wedding, at Sunny and all the younger members with him, dancing to “Yeh dosti, hum nahin toran ge” (this friendship we will not break).

There is a memory of him with the younger lads, Sata poured them all a Bacardi drink, knocked it back, gave out a great belch, and said, “right then, where’s the masala fish?”

We loved having Sata at our table at parties.

He went to every table to ask how everyone was.

He took time to check in with everyone.

He treated us with respect.

He had our respect.

He had a very distinctive voice, beautiful smile, awful jokes.

You knew where Sata was from the sound of his voice.

He was a brilliant mimic.

He was the king of the dance floor, bangra.

He created a special atmosphere around him wherever he was.

Sata was very loving and important to all of us, and to so many others.

Sata had much more life to live and love to give.

He was overcome by Covid-19.

Without Covid-19 he would still be here.

And if it had not been Covid-19 there would have been hundreds here today, with many lining up outside.

So we say a fond fare well to Sata.

Fare Well Satya.

All your family and friends bid you fare well.

Our prayer today: Apne charna de vich niwas. Give to Sata, O God, a place in your being and memory.

We take strength from the knowledge that you are with God and in the company of those who went before you.

You and your story have a special place in our memory.

Go well.

I want to say in a big thank you, in closing, to those who have created and contributed to the Crowdfund Page for Sata’s family. The fund stands at almost £10k.

Thank you.

Inderjit Bhogal

30 January 2021

RECONCILIATION: Nigerian Remembrance Day Service


Sisters and Brothers, I greet you all in the Name of Christ and wish upon you the peace and blessings of God.

It is an honour to worship and pray with you today.

I want to thank those who have arranged and managed this very powerful act of witness.

The peace of God on us, and the peace of God on all those who have died in war.

We acknowledge the pain and suffering.

We recognise that war diminishes us all, it reveals the horrors to which human beings can descend, and war is an assault on the Image of God in which we are all created, and therefore a sacrilege.

We commit ourselves again to play our part and contribute to the work of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and healing.

I oppose war, and support non-violent resolution of all conflict.

We meet close to Epiphany Day, which honours the wisdom of all nations.

The message of the Gospel writers, and the early church, is that the helpless refugee child, not Caesar armed to the teeth, reveals the path to salvation.

We look here for the light of grace that enlightens everyone, as we seek to address the challenges that face us.

We have confidence, as our reading says, that old ways can pass away, there is “new creation”, for it is always the work of God to make all things new.

This is the hope of a ministry of peace and reconcile;iation.

I offer you a short meditation on reconciliation.

In the reading from Scripture, we heard that we are called to be “ambassadors for Christ”, to make God’s appeal through us.

What does this mean?

What wisdom do we draw from Christ and the Gospel of Christ?

In the very first instance, before we challenging anyone else, we ourselves are to be “reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20), to be people who have made peace with God, and are at peace in ourselves.

If you carry peace in your own being you are better equipped to bring peace to others.

Love yourself, so that you can love God, and your neighbour, as yourself.

Being reconciled to God means we are one with God.

Being one with God means to embody God, and to reflect God’s way.

God’s way, as revealed in Christ, is to be in solidarity with humanity, without discrimination, to be inclusive of all people, to feel the hurts and pain of humanity, to hold out the spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and healing, and always, to keep the possibilities of new beginnings, and hope alive.

 What then is the distinctive contribution of the followers of Jesus, and of the Gospel of Christ to the work of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and healing?

There are four key elements and movements of the Gospel of Christ, namely:

  • Incarnation: affirming that God is with us
  • Ministry of Christ: a ministry of hospitality and healing
  • Crucifixion: recognising the passion, pain and cost of reconciliation
  • Resurrection: embracing hope, new life and direction, always

First then, Incarnation: God is with us

This is the good news.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

God is One, and is one with people, with all our immense diversity, without discrimination.

In love, forgiveness, grace and generosity God reaches out to a fallen, failing, selfish humanity.

God honours all people, for all are made in the Image of God.

In Christ, God has done the work of “reconciling the world to himself”; God reflects the humility of taking the first step in reconciliation, “without counting human trespasses against them” and “entrusting the message of reconciliation” to us (2 Corinthians 5:19).

In the birth of Christ, God embraces the powerlessness and vulnerability of a new born child.

A child is born with empty hands.

The first requirement in a movement of reconciliation is that weapons are put away, we come to each with empty hands.

I’m sure you have your favourite Christmas Hymns or Carols.

I like Charles Wesley’s Hymn “Let earth and heaven combine”, and especially the lines: “He deigns in flesh to appear, widest extremes to join” (StF 208).

Focus on the words “widest extremes to join”.

It is possible for God and humanity to be joined, to be one.

Widest extremes can join.

When Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa, he made his former enemy F. W. De Klerk of the National Party his Deputy.

Some of you may recall the handshake between two extreme enemies, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness at the beginning of the Good Friday Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland.

People of widest extremes apart can be friends, can be reconciled, and work together.

We, as people of any nation, church denomination, or congregation are a rich mixture of people, and of many ethnicities and tribes.

We have all the range of diversities, not least the widest extremes in terms of theology.

With our diversity, we are called and committed to a ministry of constructive dialogue and reconciliation.

We want to enable each other to grow and flourish in our relationships.

We do so in the confidence and strength of the good news, God is with us, and when we take the path off reconciliation, of bringing people together, we are taking God’s path. It is a path of holiness.

Secondly, we emulate the Ministry of Christ: it is a ministry of hospitality and healing, not hatred or hurt.

The ministry and practice of Christ was characterised by being a hospitable and healing presence. Jesus had a ministry of hospitality and healing, not harming or hostility.

Jesus’ ministry is revealed as a ministry of

  • Mending hurts
  • Doing good
  • Including the outsider
  • Welcoming the stranger
  • Clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, sharing food with the hungry and water with the thirsty

Jesus was born empty handed and we never hear of him carrying anything in his hands. He was certainly free of weapons.

Jesus kept an open table, he welcomed all to eat with him, he especially welcomed those who felt most excluded by social, religious or political discrimination.

In ministries of reconciliation, It is essential to build shared, safe spaces where people of different backgrounds can meet, listen to each other in dialogue, share our brokenness and hurts, and feel each other’s points of hurt and grief.

This is relevant in our world characterised by increased military budgets.

Currently the world is spending almost $2,000 billion on military.

This cost cannot be justified in our world of hunger and harm.

We need hospitals, homes, schools.

War as a strategy has failed and is an out-of-date approach to conflict resolution.

We call for commitments and actions consistent with the hospitable and healing ministry and practice of Jesus.

Hospitality offers a better way to respond to difference, transcending social borders, and expressing respect especially for people excluded from the benefits of belonging.

Hospitality offers bread, not bullets and bombs.

Hospitality is a way of non-violence, seeking to bring all participants in any conflict to the table of hospitality and shared dialogue.

The Latin root for reconciliation (CONCILIUM) points to a deliberate process in which conflicting parties meet “in council”, in conversation. Reconciliation is rooted in community, and is the work of communities.

It is important to foster reconciliation in communities, in congregations.

This is the experience of communities of reconciliation such as Corrymeela Community ion Northern Ireland, which has spent 50 years bringing people of opposing backgrounds together for dialogue.

The founder of Corrymeela, the Rev Ray Davey, was fond of saying that if we Christians do not speak of reconciliation, we have nothing to say.

Let me take some of you to Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland soon to learn from their experience.

The third focus of Gospel witness is Crucifixion: reflecting the passion and cost of the cross

The message of the cross is that nothing worth doing is without cost.

There is a cost involved in exercising the ministry of reconciliation.

Jesus was tortured and persecuted and rejected.

Jesus died denied, betrayed and abandoned even by his closest friends.

Being peacemakers and people of reconciliation will not bring you necessarily to a peaceful and tranquil life.

Peace building and reconciliation is hard work and a long road.

Small Christian communities in Panjab, on the borders of India and Pakistan, constantly face threats to their existence, but remain constant under trying circumstances. They bear witness to Christ in environments where the majorities are Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

No doubt this can be said of small Christian communities in border lands in Nigeria. Their witness is courageous, and costly.

The ministry of reconciliation is costly and you will have your opponents.

Think about the people best remembered for their non-violence teaching (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero).

They were killed by opponents.

In a speech in Belfast in 2013 President Barak Obama said it is harder work to make peace.

This is the experience of peace and reconciliation workers in Northern Ireland. They all knew what Mr Obama was saying. All peace activists know and have known this.

So peace-making is hard work. It is not a soft option.

It is a long and winding road, a long term, and difficult task.

It requires hard listening and conversation.

The road is not smooth, it is lumpy, uneven, crooked. This is the uneven ground on which strangers and friends, families and familiar faces cross over to meet each other to address matters of justice and mercy and humility.

It is Gospel wisdom that we have to bear the cross. It is the pathway to resurrection and hope.

With the cross at the centre of our existence, we are called to model leadership that handles power with redemptive love, with a capacity to share and give up power, always seeking to empower others.

The ministry of forgiveness and healing and reconciliation carries what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the cost of discipleship”.

Fourthly, Resurrection: and the hope held and proclaimed in the resurrection

The resurrection stories in the Gospels insist that there is always a good way ahead.

There is always more. Resurrection calls us never to give up hope.

Always remain hopeful, even in the worst of circumstances.

We acknowledge that the wounds of the past can never be covered up and hidden.

The resurrection narrative recognises this as the risen Christ invites Thomas to reach out and touch the scars of his wounds in his hands and side.

Wounds can heal, but the scars and marks of the hurt remain. These have to be acknowledged.

In the depths of the scandal of apartheid Archbishop Desmond Tutu insisted that good will overcome evil, that truth will not be suppressed by falsehood.

I recall him and his colleagues challenging the might of South African military with Bibles in their hands.

He used to say to the Apartheid Government: “You may have the guns. You may have all this power. But you have already lost. Come, join the winning side”.

But he never lifted a weapon.

Reflect on your life and all the situations in which you feel you are at your wits end, at a dead end, stuck, and not sure of which way to turn next.

The Gospel insists, do not despair or give in.

Always remain hopeful.

Resurrection proclaims that there is a way out of the impasse.

According to John’s Gospel, the disciples had been fishing and had nothing to show for all their efforts, they were ready to give up, but in the wisdom of Christ they were shown a way forward.

The ministry of reconciliation brings the confidence that new beginnings are possible, it is a ministry that never ends, never gives up and always keeps hope alive.

Reconciliation brings us to be new creation, and give new life (2 Corinthians 5:5-21).

These four moments of the Gospel encapsulate the distinctive mission and ministry expressed and exercised in the Name of Christ.

It is a ministry strengthened and sustained by the Holy Spirit of God. 

Concluding remarks on reconciliation

Reconciliation is rooted in the stories of faith, and the gift of faith communities is to place greater value on reconciliation, and to uphold and proclaim a vision of reconciliation in our world.

From beginning to its conclusion, the Bible records and reflects Gods continuing reconciling work in the history of a people on a journey, constantly desiring nothing less than a restoration and renewal of the relationship with God, within their own being and relationships, and ultimately the renewal of all creation.

There is a claim in the New Testament that this journey reaches a climax in the decisive revelation of God in Jesus Christ, following which God’s work of reconciliation moves to a new level towards renewing and building a “new heaven and a new earth” realising the fullest potential of all creation.

There is an inseparable link between reconciliation and the stories of creation, crucifixion and the consummation of all creation. 

God never gives up on the work of reconciliation and calls us to share in this work [2 Corinthians 5:18-19].

The ministry of reconciliation includes set-backs, frustrations and enormous costs, and sacrifices involved.

Reconciliation is built on repentance, forgiveness, the willingness to change, to restore and renew relationships, and to live with more grace and generosity without giving up.

Reconciliation is not simply a matter of achieving integration by assimilation and erosion of differences.

Reconciliation requires holding and healing each other through remembering, sharing stories of hurt, arriving at repentance, forgiveness, and a commitment to living with more grace and generosity. It embraces economic, ecumenical and environmental justice.

Within this breadth of reconciliation, we are all called to make a modest contribution and play our part, and to value the contribution others make however small.

We dare to hope for and dream of a different society, a decent society where all people can be safe, flourish and have equal opportunity, and enjoy the fullness of life; where different parties agree to be in an open and honest relationship in which they can share openly and honestly in what are undoubtedly difficult conversations.

A reconciled society will not be one without differences and disagreements but it will be one where division is not destructive because there is a shared commitment to the enhancement of life for all.

We will not give up on reconciliation.

The Dalai Lama said during a visit to Northern Ireland:

“Reconciliation. We have no alternative or option. Violence is suicide.”

The Gospel of Christ expresses confidence in God who is revealed in Christ’s birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.

So live your life as “ambassadors” of this Gospel ministry of reconciliation, and encourage this lifestyle in all life and conflict at local and wider level. And you will help to build a better world.

Inderjit Bhogal

9 January 2021

Delhi Cathedral 18th February 2001

Amos 9:7 and John 4:21
See also Isaiah 19:19-25 (J. Sacks, Dignity of Difference, p.204)


I came to India in 1982 and made contact with the Church of North India. The Rev. Pritam Santram was the General Secretary and The Rev. Ernest Talibuddin was treasurer. The Rev. Patrick Moti lal was an up and coming young minister serving in Bhogal. I was made to feel very welcome by CNI and by all my colleagues here.

I remember chatting with Pritam Santram about Church, Christianity and other faiths. I was thinking through some ideas about Christianity from a world-wide perspective.

Among many wise things Pritam Santram said to me were these words. He said: “The way God relates to Israel is symbolic of how God relates to all nations.” That was a shaft of great illumination for me. The thought has helped me enormously.


To read the full sermon given by Inderjit at Delhi Cathedral please click here.

Set all Free Sermon

I am honoured to give this Methodist Sacramental Fellowship Lecture.  I am grateful to the MSF for the support you have given me over the years.   I value MSF for the respect you give to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures and the centrality of the Holy Eucharist.

I have been invited to give this Lecture as a result of a conversation I have conducted with Norman Wallwork over a number of years on the Wesleyan, particularly Charles’, use of polysyllabic words such as “unfathomable”, “incomprehensibly”, and, my favourites, “undistinguishing” and “inextinguishable”.  Norman discerned the makings of a Lecture.  I discern a Weslyan Polysyllabic Holy Trinity:  God who has an Undistinguishing Regard for all; Christ who is Incomprehensibly Made Man; and the Holy Spirit, the Inextinguishable Blaze.

The two words “for all” are central in Methodist thought, and were deliberately chosen in the title of my Inaugural Presidential Address: A Table For All. 

In the words of Charles Wesley, God’s “Undistinguishing regard was cast on [all] Adam’s fallen race”, and, as he goes on to write, “for all thou hast in Christ prepared sufficient, sovereign, saving grace”[Hymns and Psalms 520].
The words Immense, Unfathomed and Unconfined, in relation to God and God’s Grace, say to me that God, and God’s Grace, knows no bounds.
What I offer in this paper are some reflections on my understanding of God, the Grace and Graciousness of God, and the Good News of God disclosed in Jesus Christ.Most of us here have met around a vision that we want to mark 2007 as an important mile-stone in the struggles against slavery, recognising that – while there were around 10million people in slavery worldwide in 1807, to our shame there will be over 20 million people in slavery worldwide in 2007.

With the support of all the organisations we represent, and others, the ‘Set All Free – Act to end Slavery’ project has been established, and a project Director and Officer are in place.  We have an executive committee, and a wider co-ordinating group to guide and support the project.

Considerable work has already been undertaken, and we have an agenda.

We are here therefore to share together in this service of commitment, to launch the Set All Free project, and to Commission our Director and Officer, in the context of worship and prayer.  Set All Free is a project of the church. It is a collaboration between churches, church related groups, societies and agencies, and others who are happy to work with a Christian ethos to ‘act to end slavery.’  We are a partnership of black and white Christians – utterly dedicated to opposing the disgrace of slavery in all its forms.  We meet on this ground to affirm the Christian tradition of questioning and opposing injustice.

Our motivation is Jesus Christ and his vision of the kingdom of God in which all belong equally.

To read the full sermon text please click here.

A sermon preached on Racial Justic Sunday 2004

“People will come from East and West, North and South, and will eat in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29 NRSV)

It’s a wonderful image for our contemporary world. We gather in the weekend during which the third anniversary of 9/11 has been marked. We gather at the end of the week which has seen the tragedy of Beslan School killings. And even as we pray Hurricane Henry is flattening parts of the Caribbean, there are floods in China and Japan experienced a strong earthquake. We are meeting at a time when millions of people, like those in Darfur are dying. These are all forms of terror today rooted in poverty, plurality and pollution.

It’s an important week-end for me for other reasons. It is 40 years precisely this weekend since I arrived in UK with my family from Nairobi Kenya. What brought me here was a catalogue of Colonial racism and terrorism that I can now trace back 400 years to the Slave Trade.

To read the full sermon click here.

‘Anything you did’ Sermon

“…anything you did for one of the least important of these, you did for me.”  Mt.25:40

Our Calling as individuals and congregations is to serve God and Christ day by day.  The Gospel reading today teaches us that we serve Christ, and thus God, through service to the “least important.”

“…anything you did
For one of the least important of these,
You did for me.”

That’s our text.

As the older versions put it:

“…inasmuch as you did it to the least important of these you did it for me.”

It is a mantra I commend to you.  It is a mantra for us all.

The text, the whole Parable, gives priority to behaviour over beliefs.  Or as it says in the Letter to James:

“ without works is dead.”  James 2:26

That’s the challenge of our Gospel reading.

If you read the whole of Matthew 25 you will find that this is the challenge in all three Parables here:

• Five women who acted wisely are contrasted with those who foolishly did nothing [often called the Parable of the Wise Virgins];
• The one steward who acted by putting his talents to good use is contrasted with the two who did nothing with them;
• The just ones who served the “least important” are contrasted with those who did nothing.

All three Parables give priority to right behaviour:

“…faith without works is dead.”

Faith without actions is dead.

We are focussing on the Parable of the so called “Final Judgement.” 

A Parable is a picture or a story which conveys a truth.  The details in the picture/ story are often stark and vivid, in order to grab attention and drive home a truth, a message.  The purpose of the details is not to give factual information, rather they are there to make a central point.

This Parable pictures the “Final Judgement.”

To read the full sermon click here.

“You shall also love the stranger” Deut 10:19

The most important lesson I learned in all that I saw and heard during my year of office as President of the Methodist Conference is summed up in the words of a young Bosnian Muslim survivor.   He shared these words at the first Holocaust Memorial event held in Britain on 27th January this year.   He spoke of so-called “ethnic cleansing”.   He described how a diverse community of good neighbours was suddenly brought to the point of enmity and hostility to each other; and how he was tortured by people he knew.   Then he spoke these words, and I shall never forget them:

“When one group starts to treat another group of people as less than human that’s the beginning of genocide.”

The diverse communities of Birmingham, Bradford, Belfast as well as Bosnia need to hear the wisdom and warning in the words of this young man.   Such atrocity could happen in Bosnia – we don’t want it in Britain.

“Ethnic Cleansing”  – as it is termed – is rooted in doctrines of ethnic and religious purity.   It fears diversity and difference.   People say “You are different, you are dirty, you cannot live near me.   You must go and live somewhere else.”   To bring people to a point where they move out, violence is threatened or unleashed.

History is littered with ethnic atrocity and genocide.   There have been times when religion has been used to sanction or justify such atrocity.

The book Religion and Atrocity: Unholy Alliance by Jewish theologian Marc Ellis spells this out very well.   Any person of good will and good faith is ashamed when religion is abused to sanction or justify atrocity.   Where religion is used to sanction or justify atrocity, people of good will and good faith will reject it.   People will not trust or respect the judgement and wisdom of systems, structures, religion or individuals that support separation of people, however that is attempted.

There have been – and are – numerous ideologies or philosophies or theologies that have been used to separate people.
• the caste system
• the theory of many races, and purity of races
• the doctrine of apartheid
• the strategy of ethnic cleansing

Religion is co-opted in these systems to accord purity and cleanness to the established groups and to support or justify their power or empires, if you like.

In all the ideologies of separation I have listed, ancient and modern, prime of place is given to those of lighted skin colours.   We can see it , for example, in Noah who spoke words of curse to his son Canaan who would have been black; in the actions of Abraham who drove out his black wife, Hagar; when Moses is criticised by Aaron and Miriam because he had married a black, Cushite woman.

Such colour discrimination came to be ritualised by language of purity and defilement.   The privileged people were pure, and the rest were unclean.   The pure and the unclean or impure could not interact.   In time, the most sacred of religious qualities, holiness, came to mean being pure – and separate and free of contact with people, animals and things that could defile one.   The holy ones, the pure, were seen to be close to God who is holy and separate.   Everyone else is an outsider, unclean.   The one who is different is the one who is not pure.  

Stricter and stricter boundaries were drawn between the inner, holy, circle and those outside it.   The “insiders” has space to be.   The “outsiders” were outside it.   They had no place.   They were no people.   These are the ones who Biblically are referred to as “strangers”.   Strangers are the ones to whom the insiders owe nothing, the ones from whom the insiders should keep separate.   The strangers are nameless masses who are an irritation, and embarrassment and unwelcome.   To be a stranger is to be denied access to life.

The Biblical term for them is Habiru.   Most Biblical scholars now regards Habiru as an alternative rendering of Hebrew.   The term Hebrew has roots in the word abar which means “to cross over”.   Hebrew therefore id the one who crosses over boundaries in the quest for life.   As one author notes (W. Brueggemann, Interpretation and Obedience, Fortress 1991, p293), Hebrew are “the people who finally became the ‘people of God’ in the OT [and] are among some of those [who had been] declared ‘strangers’, ‘outsiders’, ‘threat’” – by the status quo, i.e. the Egyptian Empire.

In the story of Joseph in Egypt, we read (Gen 43:32):

“They served him by himself,
and them by themselves,
because the Egyptians
might not eat bread with the Hebrews,
for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

The word “abomination” shows how the idea of separateness had been ritualised for members of the status quo.   To eat with the stranger would be defiling.   This ritualising developed into laws and regulations regarding food, sexuality and the priesthood.

In God’s design, the Hebrew, the strangers, the no-people, became God’s people.

God hears the cries of the Hebrews in Egypt.  
God hears them and accords them status.
The stranger, the outsider, is seen to be included in God’s community.

This community now lives by a divine ethic.   God is seen to side with the stranger.   God’s people are required to emulate God.

Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth has written (Faith in the Future, DLT 1995, p.78):

“The Hebrew Bible contains the great command, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lev 19:18), and this has often been taken as the basis of biblical morality.   But it is not:  it is only part of it.   The Jewish sages noted that on only one occasion does the Hebrew Bible command us to love our neighbour, but in 37 places it commands us to love the stranger.   Our neighbour is one we love because he is like ourselves.   The stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like ourselves.”

That is a remarkable piece of illumination.   “Love your neighbour as yourself” is the instruction that is readily quoted.   Hardly ever do we hear God’s oft repeated command to “love the stranger”.

In Deuteronomy 12:17-19, we read:

“17 The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe,
18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow,
 and who loves the strangers,
 providing them with food and clothing.
19 You shall also love the stranger,
 for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Why should you love the stranger?
Because God loves the stranger…and remember, you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

The Hebrew – the stranger in Egypt, to whom God showed love, is now required to love the stranger.

God’s holiness is not seen in God’s remoteness or separateness from the stranger, but by God’s utter concern for the stranger, by God’s adoption and embrace of the stranger.   God requires nothing less from those who would be holy.   God is outraged when “the stranger residing among you  suffers extortion” (Ez 22:7).   This is the god who is seen in Jesus of Nazareth.   God is the incarnate one, the one who is with us.

Jesus cuts through boundaries and separation between who is considered to be holy and profane.   You remember the insiders who would not eat with the outsiders, the stranger, because that would be an “abomination”.   Jesus’ most subversive and radical activity, for which he is most criticised, is to eat with the social outcasts of his day.   It is said that “he eats with sinners and tax collectors”.   The tax collectors were not flavour of the day because they collaborated with the “outsiders”.

Jesus expressed his solidarity with the poor and marginalized people of his day by eating with them.   He welcomes the poor, “the unclean”, “the sinners”, the harlots and publicans and ate with them.   In this he showed God’s way, God’s truth and God’s life.   He demonstrates a holiness of connectedness not separateness, of intimacy not aloofness.

• breaks down barriers
• crosses our boundaries
• includes those who would have been excluded
• eats with anyone who would eat with him.
Everything Jesus did and said demonstrated these things.

Guardians of boundaries and holiness of separation don’t like such behaviour.   In the end, Jesus’ actions crucified him

Jesus has left an example for his community.   Practise hospitality.   Eat with each other.   Eat with the most vulnerable ones.   Eat with “the stranger”.   Your lifestyle should be one of hospitality and solidarity, not hostility and segregation.

The ethics of so many are about
They may extend to “love of neighbour”.

The Biblical and gospel demand is for a different, counter-cultural ethic:
 “God loves the stranger…
   You shall also love the stranger.”

The strength of this requirement is seen in the fact that it is stated 37 times in the Hebrew Bible.   Jesus demonstrates the ethics of hospitality and eating with outcasts, and says that in welcoming the stranger, one welcomes Christ:

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.”

To be made human in the image of God is to be:
 Creative  “revolting against everything that is opposed to humanity”
   (James Cone, Theology of Liberation  Orbis, sixth edition 1995, p 93.)
Hospitable  revolting against everything that is opposed to the welcome of “strangers”

Being in the image of God is about recognition of the fact that there is one race, the human race.

It is also the vision and theology that is at the root of every act of resistance by black people when they are refused the status of being human when they are refused welcome and hospitality.

To express confidence and belief in the image of God is to say
yes to our colour
yes to our hospitality

And it is to say “no” to those who think they are God but end up laying an assault on God’s  image.
“Black theology emphasises the right of blacks to be black and by so doing to participate in the image of God” (Cone p 93)

To participate in the image of God is to rebel against structures of oppression and segregation; it is to participate in the liberation struggle against the forces of inhumanity.

“Neither on this Mountain, nor in Jerusalem” John 4:21

Sometimes I avoid Chapel Walk. I don’t have time to talk to John who sells the Big Issue. But I like to sit on the bench outside the front doors of the Vic, Victoria Hall. Sometimes I take a mug of coffee with me,-and sometimes an extra one for John. Recently John asked me about the Four Church buildings on the Road about there: The Unitarian Chapel, St. Maries Cathedral, URC, and The Vic. We talked about their different traditions and styles of worship “Do they all worship the same God?” asked John. “I don’t think we all worship the same God,” I replied, “but there is only One God- we all worship the One God.” He then said- “You could all worship in one building. Why do you all need such a large separate place?” I said Jesus had a vision- he longed for a time when people would worship God “in spirit and truth.”

In a conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus used the phrase ‘neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem.’ Do you have a spot where you like to sit? Your watering hole? Your Jacob’s well…the well at which you rest? Wells are familiar places in the Bible. They are often the places where women and men can meet- perhaps because they are public places and are safe spots. Isaac met his bride to be, Rebecca, by a well. And Jacob met his bride, Rachel, at a well. A well provided water in a desert area. Wells are therefore symbols of the gift of life from God to people. Sometimes the life God gives is described in the language of marriage. Israel is seen as God’s bride. The Church is seen as the bride of Christ. The Samaritan woman-from a despised group- met Jesus at a well. Does this encounter suggest that God gives (has given) new life through the most unlikely encounters, and through surprising relationships, through despised people…? Can you think of a time when you were refreshed by a foreigner? -or a marginalised person?   Just picture Jesus sitting at the well, in the midday heat, shattered by his journey. He is tired and thirsty. He is prepared to ask for a drink. “Give me a drink.” The conversation begins on the theme of water. It moves on to the theme of worship. And the whole chapter ends with Jesus returning to Cana- where he transformed water into wine, and on this occasion restores someone to life.

The progression is similar to chapter 2. • There is a conversation involving water, and transformation of water into wine. • It moves on to the theme of worship involving the cleansing of the Temple. • It concludes with the reference to Jesus resurrection.   So in Ch 2 and Ch 4, the structure is: Water Worship Life, new life.

In both chapters – There is ordinary water, and the water of life – There is a reference to Temples, and Jesus’ critique of Temples – His distinction between temporal places of worship, and true centre of worship which is within us – The body is the Temple – The worship God desires is worship in spirit and truth, worship which is neither defined by nor confined by buildings.

The real Temple is not found in Buildings, but in the Body.   The essence of temple worship is as temporary or time related just as a drink of water does not quench thirst for long. True worship, worship in spirit and truth, is equated with drinking the water Jesus offers which “will become…a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”   “Sir”-says the woman- “give me this water.”  The conversation begins with Jesus saying “give me a drink.” It moves on to a point where the woman says to Jesus “Sir, give me this water so that I may never be thirsty.”