I was talking recently with some Norwegian friends – fluent in English, of course, but not native speakers. So when I said ‘that would be interesting’ I was asked ‘So, which of the seventeen meanings of ‘interesting’ would that be?’ A good question in that context, and for today. ‘Interesting times’ are times of uncertainty, maybe of danger; times of change, maybe of chaos; times of new possibilities, but also unexpected fears.  We are in the UK now living in interesting times.

My father was a meteorologist, which explains perhaps why I am even more interested in the weather than the average Brit (I wonder, how long will that term have its present meaning?). The weather is inherently unpredictable, but there are times when it is more difficult even than usual. The Met Office run their simulations  of what might happen, and sometimes a whole range of radically different outcomes are equally possible. That’s what it feels like now to me. No-one can predict what’s going to happen – we just don’t know.

So how do we live in these ‘interesting’ times? We start from a difficult place, in a nation deeply divided after an aggressive referendum campaign marked by negativity on each side. Counting up the votes in the boroughs and districts which (more or less) reflect my own episcopal area, there were 206664 for remain, and 203611 for leave – that’s a remain majority of  50.3%. Round here we are as finely balanced as anywhere in the country.

Living with uncertainty is never easy. All the more difficult when half of us are confronted with a future we voted against, and many of those who voted to leave seem to be in a state of shock at their victory. It’s a time when Paul’s words are particularly relevant, and a little frightening. As I write, it seems as if both our main political parties are descending into the sort of civil war that Paul warns against in Galatians. The break Gal5,14-15up of the UK is again on the cards, and no-one knows what the future holds for the political settlement in Northern Ireland. There are widespread reports of racist abuse of those who look ‘foreign’. A hospital chaplain reports that staff in his hospital, from many countries in the EU and beyond, are feeling as if all their work and dedication had been rejected.

Paul’s  answer is that we should instead love our neighbours as ourselves. That may be almost equally difficult for everyone. Those who voted to remain in the EU are asked to love those who voted to leave, despite everything – and vice versa. Not to agree, but to love. It’s only by doing that that we can demonstrate that we are still neighbours.

The sort of love which holds a community together is not romantic. It’s the practical act of recognising that we are responsible for one another’s well being, that my good is bound up with what is good for you. It’s part of the trust which enables us think of other people as sharing the same sorts of values as us, even if they express them differently. Both of those sorts of communal love are under threat. The referendum debate has led many people to suspect that half of their neighbours don’t share the same basic values that they have. It has left many wondering whether they have any place at all.

Neighbourliness needs rebuilding right now, from the ground up. Those who feel that they have been rejected need to know that they are still part of our community. Those who voted to leave and those who voted to remain need to reassure each other that they are still neighbours. The future is unclear, and looks likely to be a bumpy ride. The opportunities for division, recrimination and resentment are many. But we must heed Paul’s warning. Love is not an optional extra.

I should start with a disclaimer – this is personal, not the view of the Diocese of Southwark, still less the Church of England.

As the debate has unfolded, I have become more and more convinced that it is in EU-UK flagsour best interests to stay in the European Union. Behind the headlines, there are even more important questions here, which aren’t being addresses as far as I can see – what does it take to make a healthy community? how do human beings learn to live together in harmony? I spend my life helping build healthy communities, and dealing with situations when things go wrong in them, so I hope I have something to offer here.

If you’re going to have peace, you have to have relationship. Distance creates suspicion and distrust. Human beings have a natural tendency to assume the best of themselves and the worst of others – it’s one of those human traits Christians call ‘sin’. The best way to overcome it is to get to know ‘the others’ – so that they are no longer an anonymous and threatening enemy, but a group made up of individuals really quite like us. And this is important: peace between nations is not inevitable. Right up to 1914 there were people saying that war in Europe was unthinkable, inconceivable. I’d rather have us round the table arguing about farm subsidies than sitting sullenly apart and getting ever more anxious about what ‘they’ are plotting. Let’s stay together and continue to build a peaceful Europe.

I have also seen that communities that turn in on themselves do not thrive. It can feel so much safer and more secure to lock the doors and “keep out the foreigners”. But in the long term (even in the medium term) it doesn’t work. The flow of new ideas, new energy, new ambition that outsiders bring increases the liveliness and energy of society as a whole. Yes, it means that there is more competition, but we shouldn’t be afraid of that. We have the talent and the ability to rise to the challenge and thrive.

And finally, a community that is strong knows it has something to offer beyond its borders. The UK is a growing and prosperous country – except, often, in our own eyes. We have a huge amount to offer to the rest of the European Union. We do not have to regard ourselves as passive victims of “EU directives” – we have the capacity to make a real difference, to change things for the better. We should be talking about leading the EU, not leaving it.

The voting season is upon us – for those of us in London, voting for a Mayor and Assembly, thought that election is struggling to get much air time compared with UK referendum on membership of the EU. And for most people who intend to vote I suspect they’re still in the box marked ‘oh I must get round to thinking about that’. And for everyone else? ‘Please let it all be over’, perhaps?

Confession time: I think I’ve voted in every election I’ve ever been eligible for (and no, I’m not going to tell you who for). It was one of those things I absorbed when I was a child: voting wasn’t an option, it was an obligation. It was quite a surprise to me when I first met people who couldn’t see why they should vote.

Like most of us, most of my life I’ve lived in places where the result was pretty obvious before anyone even cast a vote. So I wasn’t voting because I thought my ‘X’ on the ballot paper would really make a difference to the result. It was more because I wanted my voice to be heard, even if it was in adding to the majority of someone who was going to elected comfortably – or alternatively, registering the existence of a minority who were never likely to win.

I suppose part of it is that I do believe elections make a difference. Please don’t say to me ‘oh, they’re all the same’ unless you want an argument. Different political parties stand for different things and what they stand for makes a real difference to ordinary peoples’ lives. Even if my vote ‘doesn’t make a difference’, I still want to express my support for the party which is closest to what I personally believe (no, I’m still not telling).

I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone how they should vote. But I will encourage you to use yours, to make your voice heard, even a little bit, in whatever elections may be coming up where you live. Who serves you in elected office does make a difference – and every vote does count for something.

‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.’

Jesus looks forward to his own death, his sacrifice of himself. In this Holy Week we are looking forward to our celebration – yes, celebration of Good Friday. A day of torture and death which was the sowing of the seed of abundant and eternal life. Christ received into himself the hatred and violence of humanity and transformed it into its opposite.

And then Brussels. Three men it would seem sacrificed themselves as suicide bombers. A sacrifice built on hatred of European culture, a sacrifice that desires to spawn yet more hatred, and its cousin fear. This seed seeks to die in order to make a harvest as horrible as itself, hundreds of times over.

I can’t condemn anyone for anger at a time like this. It’s because I know well what anger is like that I pray that it may not set hard into hatred. That way leads to the success of the suicide bomber. The more difficult path is for anger to become the passionate search for justice, and its cousin peace.

That is the way of the cross. If we can walk in it, even falteringly, we are beginning to take the seeds of hate and transform them into love.

This is the sermon I preached last night at the farewell service for Ven Danny Kajumba, Archdeacon of Reigate 2001-2016:

God’s calling can take you in many unexpected directions. I would never have imagined, as a good evangelical boy going off to university, that I would end up who I am or where I am, still less in what I’m wearing (a cope, if you’re wondering). Still less could Danny have imagined the twists and turns, the opportunities and roles, that he has been called to undertake in God’s service.

Let me remind you of a little of his biography: Having been exiled to Britain during Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda, Danny worked at different times in a factory, as an auxiliary nurse, a youth officer, deputy warden of a Christian hostel and as proprietor of a home for the elderly before training for the ministry on the Southwark Ordination Course. He was ordained in 1985, serving a curacy in St Albans Diocese before returning to Uganda in 1987 where he served as a non-stipendiary minister whilst working as a senior executive in the Ugandan Government and later as the Secretary General of the Kingdom of Buganda, in what is now southern Uganda. He came back to this country and served as Team Vicar in the Horley Team for a couple of years, before becoming Archdeacon of Reigate in 2001. Since 2009 he has chaired the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns of the Archbishops’ Council. He is, of course, in the Ugandan context not merely Archdeacon but also Prince Danny. His other trusteeships and interests are too numerous to mention, though before the evening is out I will ask about Adonai Paintball in Kampala, which sounds fascinating – is it perhaps a Christian version of paintball where you compete to offer yourself most quickly to the others’ weapons?

Danny is a man of many gifts and talents, as that brief biography makes clear. I have benefitted often from his wisdom and canny business sense, and equally from his infectious joy and enthusiasm for the gospel. I know that many sitting here will have much to give thanks for in his ministry in the Reigate Archdeaconry, in the Diocese of Southwark, in the Church of England, in this nation, in Uganda … he has been a busy man. No wonder he’s needed so many mobile phones! But he has always used his gifts and talents for the benefit of others, not himself. Danny is a man of great generosity.

In particular, Danny has been an example and an encouragement to those called into the church’s ministry from black and minority ethnic communities, and among so many, it is that aspect of your calling, Danny, I would like to emphasise and reflect on tonight. The Church of England has wrestled for years with its failure to attract black and minority ethnic people into positions of leadership, and especially into the ordained ministry. The recent initiative entitled Turning up the Volume aims to double the number of minority ethnic clergy in senior positions by 2024 – we have long lead-in times in the Church of England. Given what I have seen of the calibre of many BAME people within the church, I can only applaud that target, and regret that we have set it to ourselves so late in the day. But I would also like to suggest what we can do more.

We definitely need to turn up the volume, to give conscious and deliberate attention to BAME representation in the church. To continue the analogy, we also need as a church to learn to sing some different tunes. I should make it clear that I’m not talking about hymn books here – I’m talking about our culture and patterns of working as a church. Being one myself, it is difficult at first to discern how many of the ways and customs of the church are specially adapted for middle-aged, middle-class white men. I swim in my own natural waters. But the less like that you are, the more unfamiliar are the cultural waters of the church. I speak not only of my work with Danny over the last four years, but my previous experience of multi-cultural church life in Islington and Hackney: I have seen how much those who don’t fit – and this applies to many women, and to white working-class people too – have to swim against the tide of the unspoken and often unconscious assumptions about how things are, or how things are done, of what’s proper.

We sing a particular song, if you like, which is familiar and comfortable. But it’s not the same song that many other members of our society sing. It’s not better, or worse, but it’s unfamiliar. And if we are to be the Church of England, and not just the Church of the middle-class English, we have to find ways in which all of those different songs can be woven together in one body of Christ.

That does not mean creating protected spaces in which minority activities can flourish. It’s far more radical than that. In Croydon where I live we are all ethnic minorities, because there is no one group which is in the majority. That’s certainly not the case in the Reigate Archdeaconry, or in most of the country, so it is all the more of a challenge to incorporate those songs of different cultures and ethnicities as equal partners into the church’s one hymn of praise which is its life together.

Today is the day when the church remembers Bishop Edward King. At the turn of the last century he was taken to court for un-Anglican innovations like mixing the water with the wine at the eucharist. That was a small concrete symbol of the new song of Catholic spirituality which he was helping to weave into the life of the Church of England. He is remembered now not for being a firebrand campaigner – because he was not – but for his holiness and his devotion to those he was called to lead and serve in ministry. The church in his time was renewed, despite the fears and anxieties of many, through the introduction of new ways of being that seemed deeply foreign.

Danny’s ministry has been a living reminder of a calling for the whole church – not just those who are BAME. I know that at times he has felt unable to offer his gifts fully in ministry, because the church has not been able to receive them or make use of them. But that very frustration has also been a sign of what we need to do – to learn new ways of working, new songs of faith for a new, more diverse people who are now in our churches – and for the very many more who do not see that their song could be sung in our space.

One of the joys of my time working with Danny was when he, the Archdeacon of Croydon and I went together to visit our brothers and sisters in the church in Zimbabwe. Even though none of his languages are supposed to be particularly closely related to Shona, he managed to make himself understood, and clearly felt right at home. I on the other hand was continually trying to work out what I was meant to do next. For all that I understood the liturgy perfectly well, it was enculturated in a different way of being, sung in a different song. I would be glad if I found that in more parts of the Church of England I was slightly out of my own comfort zone too.

There are many gifts given to the church, Paul tells us in the epistle reading; as we gather here to celebrate we do so as one part of Christ’s body the church, one body with many gifts. Tonight we recognise all that Danny has given to that body, the many ways in which he has enriched our lives and our discipleship. But this is a celebration of the gospel, not of one person. We are met here by our Lord in word and sacrament; in the eucharist Christ always invites us all to come and be transformed. If we are to give Danny the gift tonight he would most wish, we should go out to live our own lives of discipleship enlivened yes, by all we have received – and will continue to receive – from Danny, but most of all by the Spirit of God who lives in him and in us.

Danny as I said is a generous man – not someone to be jealous of others’ gifts. At this time of passing on of ministry, I know he shares with Moses the prayer, ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets’ – let us all go out to proclaim and live the good news of Jesus Christ, and inspire others in their turn to do the same.

Last night I presented the findings of Croydon’s Opportunity and Fairness Commission to the Borough’s Cabinet. It has been a privilege to chair the commission. I logoam immensely proud of the work put in by Commissioners, Young Commissioners, the support team from the Campaign Company – and happy that the process seems already to have led to some specific initiatives which will make a difference in Croydon, especially to the poorest. It’s been very nice to be thanked and congratulated. But no-one’s asked me why I’m doing it – why did I say yes to what turned out to be another part-time job for a year, when I am pretty fully occupied anyway.

So I thought I’d ask myself, and share the answer here. It’s all because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Behind my desire to make things better for people in Croydon; behind the pressing need to bring together parts of a fractured and sometimes mistrustful community; behind the desire to help Croydon tell a story of itself which will make its inhabitants proud to live here. All of those things spring for me from the incarnational mission of God in Christ.

God does not engage in a helicopter rescue for human salvation: he doesn’t lift out the lucky / righteous from the world while leaving the rest to burn: that doesn’t seem to me to be true to the biblical story. God comes among us, lives with us, lives as us, so that the whole world may be saved. God’s ambition is not so small as to want to save just a few: God wants to save the whole world. The whole world, not just the human beings – the whole of creation is in God’s sights for his renewing and saving love.

That is the gospel of incarnation as I understand it, and it is that that makes me passionate about working in the world for the good of the world. Why did I do it? Because I hope that in a small way, with all my imperfections and mistakes, I was joining in with God’s mission of love to the world.

I am writing this on the morning after the government announced that it will accept into the UK some (no number has been given) unaccompanied children from refugee camps around Syria. That is good news – and must be celebrated. Children whose life chances were fragile at best will have a chance to discover security, to receive a good education, to grow into healthy and secure adults.

But … why is it that we won’t accept those – even unaccompanied children of equal vulnerability – who have already made the crossing into Europe? What is the difference between the ‘bad’ asylum seekers who try to board ferries and lorries, and the ‘good’ refugees who sit waiting patiently in camps in the Middle East? My fear is that we now have a contemporary version of the distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. The deserving poor know their place, they sit quietly waiting for things to get better, they’re grateful for what they receive and don’t ask for more. The undeserving poor don’t do any of those things. They are as irresponsible, demanding and full of themselves as the rest of us; they don’t think of themselves with the right degree of humility; they aren’t grateful. Asylum seekers who have made it to Europe have taken extraordinary risks to get there. They are desperate to reach a place of safety and security by their own efforts. For that we penalise and criminalise them.

People in need are people in need – and that is enough. When Jesus commends the ‘sheep’ in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 he does not differentiate among those whom they helped: in all the hungry, all the thirsty, all the imprisoned, all the strangers: in all of them you welcomed me, he says. Some of them will be bad people, but that does not let us off the hook of offering help to their need. In them too we serve Jesus.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,231 other followers