Sermon 4 Seek peace and stand up for others

Sermon for the Third Sunday before Lent, 16th February 2014

The Fourth Mark of Mission - Seek peace and stand up for those who are treated unfairly

(1 Corinthians 3:1-9 and Luke 18:35-43)

Welcome to Sermon number four, well number five really if we count the introductory sermon.  Over the past few weeks, with a little break for Candlemas, we’ve been having a series of sermons on how we, as Christians, can make a difference in God’s world.

Just in case you’ve been sunning yourself somewhere in the Caribbean and missed the fun (that is the sermons) so far, here’s a reminder of what we’ve been talking about.

We’ve been talking about the Five Marks of Mission.  The churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion – our church – identified five areas where we, as Christians, could make a real difference in God’s world.  Based firmly on biblical principles and the teachings of Christ, they are known as the Five Marks of Mission.

As Christians, we are called to:

1.  Proclaim the Good News of the Gospel
2.  Encourage and baptise new believers
3.  Love and serve those in need
4.  Seek peace and stand up for those who are treated unfairly
5.  Safeguard the planet, God’s created world.

Today we’re thinking about the fourth of those Marks of Mission, which is all about seeking peace and standing up for those who are treated unfairly.

The full description of this fourth mark of mission is: to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

Wow.  That’s a very active and ambitious agenda.  But let’s face it, the Gospel itself is a very active and ambitious agenda!

To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

These are the ways in which we’re called to make a difference in God’s world.  And this call to seek peace and justice, to speak out and act against oppression and violence, has a long biblical pedigree.

We might think of Moses, leading God’s people to freedom from Egypt, away from the tyranny of Pharaoh.  Or those wonderful passages in the prophecy of Isaiah – like chapter 58, with God’s promise to break every yoke, or great Advent passages, like Isaiah chapter 9

‘there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
   He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
   from this time onwards and for evermore.’

And in the gospels, Jesus heals the sick, forgives sins, feeds the hungry, shares meals and more with outcasts, with those who are excluded or impoverished or sick – the woman at the well, the widow at Nain, the ten lepers, people possessed by demons, the woman with haemorrhages, and the blind man we heard about today.  These are all people cast out by society, but Jesus makes it his business to transform their lives.

And that’s what we hear about in our Gospel passage today.

A blind man.  Sitting by the road.  Begging, because being blind, of course, he would be unable to work, unable to support himself.  He cries out to Jesus – and the crowd silences him.   But the blind man is insistent; Jesus stops, and the encounter results in the man regaining his sight.

Jesus heals the man, and when he says, as he does on other occasions - ‘your faith has made you whole’ he’s not just referring to physical wholeness, the restoration of the man’s sight, no, he’s referring to physical and spiritual wholeness.  The encounter with Jesus is transforming in a deep and substantial way.

So this mark of mission, to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation, these ways we make a difference in the world are deeply rooted in scripture, and in the life of the one we follow, Christ himself, and we’re called to live this out in our lives, day by day.

But how do we live out this particular mark of mission?  We’re faced with some pretty tough issues in our world today, issues where justice is needed, where peace and reconciliation seems far off.  It’s possible for us to feel helpless, defeated even, in the face of some of the issues in today’s world.

Issues like the recent changes of law regarding gay people in Russia and parts of Africa. Or like the child soldiers of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Or closer to home, how about pay day loans?  Or the necessary economic cuts disproportionately affecting those on lower incomes?  The bedroom tax?

How do we, here in Stow make a difference to these situations, to these injustices?

Well, we have one answer to this question straight from the horse’s mouth.  At the end of last year, Martin and Trish spent time with Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem.  Some of us will have seen and heard their account of this visit a couple of weeks ago.  And there were two requests from this group, an oppressed group at the heart of the Holy Land:  first, pray for us, and second tell people what’s going on here, give us a voice.

So it starts with our prayers.  Praying about issues, asking Christ to intercede is the first and most important way we make a difference.  All things are possible with God and all prayer is valued by God.  Our prayers show our concern for and solidarity with those who are oppressed or treated unjustly.

And second, those who are oppressed ask us to make sure their voices are heard.   Our first reading reminded us ‘we are God’s servants, working together’.  When God’s children are silenced, marginalised or excluded, we, his servants, are called to speak out, to act – to make sure the most vulnerable in our midst aren’t silenced by the crowd. 

So we act in prayer, and we act by bringing issues to light, ensuring that voices are heard.

We might do more – maybe directly support those who work to bring about change.  Perhaps we support the Fairtrade movement, ensuring third world producers are given a fair price in the global marketplace, as we push our trolley round the supermarket.  Or we support organisations like Christian Aid – who lobby strongly for change to unjust policies and practices or the law where necessary.  Or Amnesty International, keeping abuses of human rights on our radar, and on the radar of our governments and authorities.  

Justice and liberty are not just words for revolutionaries; for feminists and civil rights protesters; they are words for disciples of Christ too.  We can make a difference in God’s world in support of those being treated unjustly.

We may not feel we have power to restore sight, but we can make sure that we don’t silence the blind man in our midst.  We can make sure that oppressed voices are heard, and we can act in support of those who step into the difficult issues of the world.

And this is how we make a difference.  Through our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in prayer and in action, we not only point to the transforming power of the Gospel and the kingdom of God, but help to bring it about.