Trinity 3 2020 St Mary’s Matt 10, 40-42

I didn’t know until recently that Hinckley has a network of alleys that radiate out from the centre of town. I also didn’t know that the reason they were there was because it was the way in which pieceworkers – working at home – transferred the work they’d done to the bigger hosiery factories.

In Shenton I hadn’t realised that what looks like random clumps of trees on the road going up to Market Bosworth were in fact designed as places where cattle drovers bringing animals to market could stay overnight and create a safe coral for their beasts.

Our history is all around us. But often we don’t notice it until someone points it out. A significant amount of our economic prosperity as a nation was made possible by the slave trade. The recent toppling of the statue in Bristol has reminded of that and if we start to look more closely we will find that it’s all around us.

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that we depend on one another and that my wellbeing is deeply connected to yours. What we do in our homes, in our communities, in our nation and world has an impact on others.

And that has reminded us that we have choices. As we think about coming out of the present situation, do we want to go back to the way things where? Of have we discovered some things about how we could be better?

How we pay those who provide care in the community is one of those questions. How we face the problem of racism in our nation is another. At heart it’s about whether we want a world that’s good for everyone or just good for us.

We’ve all been encouraged by people showing that they want a world that’s good for everyone. But it won’t be achieved without a struggle – there are issues we find difficult if it means we too have to change.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’s teaching is set in a moment of struggle with conflict simmering under the surface. Jesus lived in an occupied nation. The Roman worked with local leaders to maintain the status quo. The Romans were there for one reason – to get rich – and those who worked with them could get rich too. But inevitably it was a minority who benefited at the expense of the majority.

The peace was kept uneasily and enforced brutally when necessary by the Roman occupation forces. That’s why there’s so much nervousness whenever Jesus gathers a crowd. At any moment it might turn violent – and start tearing down the symbols of Roman occupation. In fact, it wasn’t that long after the death of Jesus that a statue placed in the Temple by the Romans was the last straw that provoked a massive insurrection.

So when we look more closely at the story – a bit like the alleys in Hinckley or the small woods near Shenton – we find that there’s stuff we might not have noticed. We might have thought this was a story about hospitality and being kind to people – which of course it is – but there’s more.

And I think the clue is in the people Jesus singles out. Prophets, the righteous, the little ones.  

These aren’t random people. From the perspective of those in charge, these are the troublemakers.

John the Baptist was a prophet – who was routinely and deliberately challenging to the religious authorities and calling them out on their collusion with the Romans. His movement for change is the one that Jesus deliberately associates himself with at the start of his ministry when he goes for baptism.

The Righteous are those who join that movement for a world where the prophetic values of justice and mercy are embedded in society. These are the agitators and the opposition – in a society where opposition isn’t tolerated and there’s no such thing as free speech.

John’s execution comes at the start of Jesus’ ministry and Jesus himself is also destined for the same.

And the ‘little ones’, the rank and file of the Jesus movement, the people gathering around in the hope of a better world. The ones who will become the founders of the church that we are today.

So, when Jesus singles them out – I think he’s making a political point because just like us, Jesus like us lived in a time of struggle and he takes sides.

Which means that this isn’t just about hospitality – it’s about solidarity with Jesus and those in the movement. Jesus is speaking to those in the movement and reminding them that the one who sent him – God – takes sides. And it’s always with the poor, oppressed and marginalised.

This is not an easy side to be on and within ourselves we may find a struggle going on because a world that is good for everyone will mean we have to change.

In my work, I’m constantly aware that much of our wealth in the UK is made possible by treating others less than fairly. It’s great that we have Fairtrade products in St Mary’s – but it’s a reminder that so much trade is unfair. We outsource to poor countries because labour is cheap. In fact many people say that slavery never really ended.

I love the story of Zaccheaus – he’s the tax collector who starts off being on the wrong side but becomes a follower of Jesus. But as he does that he has to look at himself and change – he can’t continue to collect unfair taxes and he recognises that his own wealth has been gathered at the expense of others. It can’t have been easy for him and it’s definitely not easy for us.

What these words from Matthew remind me is that I need to listen especially carefully to those at the margins, those who are disadvantaged and exploited, even if it’s challenging because God takes sides. That means for me as a white person listening really carefully to black colleagues and friends to help me understand white privilege.

It suggests that we all need to be thinking of the world we want to be emerging from the challenges we’ve gone through and the choices we make as households, communities and nations and how it one that’s good for all – including me.

We always have to decide which side we’re on. Desmond Tutu famously said:

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

INTERCESSIONS – Sunday 28th June 2020

As we begin to pray, let us trust in the reality of God’s presence ever with us.

Lord, you judge us faithfully and we gratefully receive your promise of mercy and grace.

And we bring to you our concerns for today and the future.

Give us strength to know your will for us and help us to act on it.

Lord in your mercy:  Hear our prayer

Lord, we pray for the world – at this time of having to cope with a different type of life.

Be with the many who are struggling. The anxious and the lonely. Those suffering domestic abuse. Calm people’s fears and protect the weakest. Make them aware of your comforting presence, that they may feel safe and loved. We give thanks for those who are risking their lives to help others and we pray for those searching for the best way to tackle this situation.

And we pray for the unrest in the world, for those taking sides in a time of division and struggle and pray that protests will be peaceful and that people may learn to love and value each other.

Lord in your mercy:  Hear our prayer

We give thanks for the opening of the churches for private prayer and hope to be able to extend our outreach soon. We pray that we can be welcoming to all at all times.

We pray for the future of our church. We give thanks for the gifts and leadership of our church  given by Vince, as we begin to think about preparing for the search for a permanent vicar.

Lord in your mercy:  Hear our prayer

Father, we pray for the sick and dying, and those that care for them – that they may feel your presence with them.

We remember those who have lost loved ones. Give them hope to face the future in your hands. Help us to respond, to any in need, with wisdom and compassion.

In a moment of silence, we pray for those known to us that they may find peace through sensing your presence with them.

When we are exhausted, in mind or body, may we remember your words ‘I am with you always’.

Lord in your mercy:  Hear our prayer

Lord, you know our deepest needs. You are our strength, this day and always.

Help us to persevere, to move on in our faith, and show your love, kindness and care to all.

Merciful Father:  Accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen