Sermons from St
Dr Fred Nye, Sunday 1st July, 2018
‘It is a question of a fair balance’. Part of St. Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians is a begging letter. In it he asks the new church in Corinth to give generously to an appeal he has organised to support poor Jewish Christian families in Jerusalem. This has been described as ‘Paul’s Stewardship sermon’ – though it seems to me even more like an early version of the Parish Share scheme. But before you all start developing antibodies: no I’m not going to preach a Stewardship sermon this morning. And yet we can’t entirely escape from that notion of the Parish Share as a way of evening out the differences between rich and poor communities. It is a question of a fair balance.
Paul was fired up by two big ideas. The first was the revelation on the Damascus road that Jesus had offered his grace and salvation to him, Saul of Tarsus. As chief persecutor of the Christian church surely he was the least likely and the least worthy of anyone to receive such a gift. And growing out of this experience was the realisation that salvation through Christ Jesus is offered to everyone, just everyone. ‘There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free man’. Christians were therefore called to strive for justice and equity, but they were to do so not in their own strength, but through the grace of Jesus Christ, who himself became poor that we might become rich.
Just as Paul made this whole principle real by collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem, we too have to decide on what real practical steps we can take to promote justice and equity in our world. In terms of sheer numbers the burden of injustice is intolerable: so many people are suffering because of poverty, disease, natural disasters, climate change, war, religious persecution, and displacement and migration. Going to the Christian Aid lunch today (and our thanks to all who organised it) is one small way in which we can respond to these overwhelming needs.
It is said that charity begins at home. It certainly shouldn’t stop there: but on the other hand we can overlook or ignore injustices right on our doorstep. We need to be reminded perhaps that Liverpool, Knowsley and Manchester are among the five most deprived urban areas in England (the other two are Hull and Middlesborough). And as a retired medic I get more and more concerned about the inequalities and injustices in health in our country – what Margaret Thatcher euphemistically used to refer to as ‘variations’ in health. Life expectancy for instance is much lower among the poor than in affluent areas, and in deprived communities infant mortality rates are actually increasing. If you look at a list of twenty-five common diseases, including cancer, stroke and heart disease, the burden of illness is much, much, greater among the poor, particularly in the north of England. This means that more poor people are ill compared with those who are wealthy, and that many more poor individuals have to cope with multiple medical problems. They do indeed ‘suffer much under many physicians’. The causes of this excess ill health are many: among them are an impoverished diet, substandard and overcrowded housing, environmental pollution, lack of green spaces for recreation and exercise, and the sheer stress of the struggle to make ends meet. Whatever the causes may be, countless disadvantaged people are sucked into a black hole of chronic or life-threatening disease
This is a sermon, not a lecture, so we’d better leave it there. But maybe I have said enough to convince you that as a nation there is something seriously wrong with our sense of justice. England in some respects is still a developing country, still a country where much more needs to be done to bring health, prosperity and well being to the poor, as well as to the rich. As Christians we have to become a little more generous - hearted in giving our money and taxes to deprived communities, and bolder and more confident in speaking out for the poor and the disadvantaged.
It is a question of a fair balance. And if a fairer balance is to be achieved, at home or globally, we can’t achieve it in our own strength. Our efforts can only bear fruit if they are done in the name of the One who was rich, but became poor for our sake, and blessed by His grace.