Monday, 22 November 2010

Dealers in purple - a sermon

Well here is my sermon from this morning. I think I shall call it "dealers in purple". I enjoyed praeching this morning, despite my sinusitis. Sometimes things just work and this simple service marking the UN's day for the elimination of violence against women on November 25 worked well by re-using material from earlier in teh year but framing it differently

Psalm 1
Acts 16 11-15

Blessed are those who build community for they will be blessed with the future

So, Brothers and sisters, women and men
How are you feeling this morning?
Are you feeling happy - thank God it's Monday!
Like those who meditate God's law in Psalm 1 do you feel like a tree planted by a stream of water?

Perhaps not (particularly given how very cold it is in the chapel this morning)
Perhaps you are feeling fatigued
even at the beginning of the week
perhaps compassion fatigue has set in
or commitment fatigue
perhaps you are wary and weary of new campaigns and challenges.

More than 20 years ago in one of the most privileged environments in the world I experienced the awful complacency and cynicism compassion fatigue can create
I was studying theology at the University of Oxford and all students for church ministry that year were invited to an all day ecumenical seminar organized by Christian Aid (I’ll spare you the details of how much of an ecumenical achievement it was to simply get all of the denominations to agree to such a day.) We gathered for prayers, there were lectures and workshops on various issues linked to development and advocacy. All of the workshops were able to take place with one exception. Almost noone had signed up for the workshop on women and poverty - I still remember Michael Taylor then director of Christian Aid, challenging us pretty forcefully about both our understanding and our commitment. He faced us with our own smugness and complacency about political correctness. Across the world then as today, the poorest of the poor are women. Of course this doesn’t mean that there are not men living in abject poverty – unfortunately there are of course millions of men and boys suffering from the iniquities of poverty, injustice and war. For every unjustly poor man there is an even poorer woman.

A Monday morning meditation is not the place to remind you of the statistics, you can easily look them up on google yourselves. But it is not a coincidence that some of the key areas for achieving the millennium development goals have to do with women’s health and the access of girls to education.
Later this week the UN will mark once more the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women. A reminder of one of the additional burdens women across the world bear.

However, before I continue in this perhaps rather ranting tone, I think I should remind myself of a couple of lines by one of my favourite poets and also invite all of us not to a rant but to a celebration:
The German poet Berthold Brecht wrote
"Even anger against injustice makes the voice grow harsh.
Alas we who wished to lay the foundations of kindness could not ourselves be kind."

Today I really don’t want my voice to grow harsh – not only because I’m nearly losing it thanks to my sinusitis. Today I want to point to the possibility and the reality of what we achieve as a community of women and men together. I don’t want to focus yet again on women as victims. I want much more to encourage us to commit to what we can do together as women and men.

Particularly this week when the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches will mark the publication of a new book “In God’s Image From Hegemony to Partnership – a church manual promoting positive masculinities”

So with Fulata (on Friday) we looked for a positive female biblical role model who could speak to the community of women and men and we decided to choose the story of Lydia for this morning’s meditation.
The first person on the continent of Europe to become a Christian, to hear and believe in the good news is a woman – without her many of us here might never have become followers of Jesus Christ. She gave generations afterwards a future.

Lydia invites those with the message she believes in into her home, they are persuaded by her invitation.
She allows them close to her
She shares with them, together community is built

The evangelisers will move on

But one evangeliser will also stay put, in her own community, living out her baptism in her own place, converting those she comes into contact with through family life and business
Truly she is blessed with the future.

There was of course another reason Fulata and I chose Lydia
She was a dealer in purple 
Purple - the colour of the women’s movement,
the colour of nobility and royalty and riches
Was she a well off business woman or a poor worker selling on the dye she worked long hours to make? Scholars differ

When I think back to that ecumenical day in Oxford and particularly to the female colleagues I trained alongside from the Church of England, I admit to feeling a little sad and angry.

Not one of those women training with me can yet become a bishop and exercise the leadership of oversight in their church. When we were training together we still didn’t know whether they would be allowed to even become priests.
None of them can officially deal in purple yet … some have already retired before this will be possible for them.

(Perhaps I should add that I come from a church that doesn’t deal in purple for either men or women, those who exercise oversight have in recent decades included women. We did though ordain the first woman to the Christian ministry in Britain in 1917 – a year before women in that country had the vote. And just over two years ago we appointed the UK’s first woman church leader at the national level.)

All of us need to overcome fatigue and reinvigorate our commitment. One of the ways I do that is by reading detective fiction, issues seems to get resolved more finally than in some theological circles. I tend to feel that much of the best detective fiction is written by women. I was though surprised when re-reading one of my favourite authors Sara Paretsky - to find detective fiction also offering me encouragement and not just escapism:

"you must live in hope, the hope that your work can make a difference in the world."

Let us never fall into complacent fatigue
But let us never forget to celebrate what we are able to do together as women and men, men and women.

As I was thinking about some symbolic action we could all participate in together in this morning's service I realised that a really important practical thing we can commit to together would be to stand together as women and men for climate justice.

Annegret and I have prepared some of the posters and at the end of the service I invite you to hold the posters and take one another's photos with you mobile phones and cameras and then upload them to the campaign part of the WCC website as part of the photo petition. (or on facebook)
The posters read:
We Care for Creation
Climate Justice Now!
And this is my favourite, I think they used to say love your neighbour even when he plays trombone but this one says: Love your neighbour: Fight climate change

It is only by being together as the community of women and men who follow Jesus Christ that we will be able to combat climate change and so much else besides.
I pray that we may continue to build and celebrate that community.
In that way, bishops or not, we shall all exercise oversight and be dealers in purple, bearing witness to our baptism.

Blessed are those who build community
For they are blessed with the future