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.

Yesterday, December 8th, was the beginning of the Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. It was also a day of prayer and vigil for refugees, organised by the Churches’ Refugee Network and generously hosted by St Margaret’s Westminster. The Vigil was entitled 20,000 Welcomes – alluding both to the traditional Irish greeting, and to the 20,000 Syrian refugees that the UK government has decided to allow to resettle here. During the vigil, the following reading was read, and I offered the meditation that follows

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus comes to judge the world, and he doesn’t ask people how religious they were – at least not in the sense of going to church a lot, reading their Bible, even praying. Those whom Jesus praises are those who lived lives given to serving others – particularly those who were despised or ignored by everybody else. They visited prisoners, cared for the sick, looked after the people who were at the bottom of the heap. In fact, they did exactly the sort of things that Jesus did. I can’t imagine that any of them managed to do all that without having lives that were radically dependent on God: but the proof of all that was in lives which were lived in love for the world. They receive their reward through being the sort of people who didn’t look for it. They weren’t aware that they were serving Jesus when they helped people in trouble; they weren’t doing it in order to tot up spiritual points. They just did what needed doing.

These, along with providing burial for the dead, are six of the seven corporal (bodily and physical) acts of mercy, and they all flow from this parable:

To feed the hungry

To give drink to the thirsty

To clothe the naked

To shelter the homeless

To visit the sick

To visit the imprisoned

Today has begun the Roman Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy – a year of receiving, and also giving and living, the boundless mercy of God. As Pope Francis put it in his letter setting out his vision for the year

I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence

Whether or not we are Roman Catholic, the Pope’s call should have resonance for us. We will connect most readily, many of us, with that encouragement to continue in the practice of mercy, and to encourage others to join with us in offering 20,000 welcomes. But we should also hear that other side of the Pope’s call – that we should be ready to receive the mercy of God in our own lives as well.

That action will take different forms for us according to our own traditions and spiritualities. For some the Pope’s call to renew the sacrament of confession will be a gateway to God’s grace and freedom; for others there will be other ways – the grace of God is confined only by our willingness or not to receive it. But receive it we must, if we are to have grace and mercy to share. The commitment to continue in the acts of mercy is demanding and sometimes draining. We have all met, and probably all sometimes been, those people who are still giving when they have nothing left to give – and we know that that is not sustainable, or healthy, or good.

We need to allow ourselves to receive acts of mercy as well as to give them, if we are to live out the spirit of the gospel reading. It is not for nothing that the corporal acts of mercy are linked with the spiritual acts – traditionally they are

To instruct the ignorant.

To counsel the doubtful.

To admonish sinners.

To bear wrongs patiently.

To forgive offences willingly.

To comfort the afflicted.

To pray for the living and the dead

The spiritual and the bodily do not live in separate compartments – they are dimensions of the whole human beings that we all are. In the giving and receiving which is the breathing in and out of the grace of God, may we be open doors of mercy in ourselves – doors that open in gratitude and thankfulness who come bringing gifts to us, and doors that open in hospitality and generosity to those who need our shelter, so that we are indeed able to offer 20,000, 50,000, any number of welcomes.

2015-11-14 15.20.27

A fairly average photo of where people live in the Jungle – which is actually a piece of ex-industrial waste ground off an industrial estate

Last Saturday I was in Calais visiting the Jungle Camp. I’m still not sure what to make of the experience. The conditions were atrocious, especially on a dismal, chilly November day of perpetual rain. If you will forgive the seeming inappropriate analogy, I was reminded of attending music festivals in the 1980s – disgusting toilets, occasional standpipes for cold water, rubbish everywhere. And this is how people are living not for a weekend, but day by day, week by week, month by month. There had been a fire the previous night, and some of the refugees staying there had been burnt out even of what little they had. But no wonder, when there is no alternative but to cook on an open fire inside your tent.

A cooking fire in a tent in the family area of the camp

A cooking fire in a tent in the family area of the camp

And in these atrocious conditions we met some remarkable people. We met Solomon, who led the building and now is the guardian of one of the two churches in the Jungle. Dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, it reflects the Orthodox tradition of Eritrea and Ethiopia, where most of the Christian refugees come from.

Inside St Michael in the Jungle

Inside St Michael in the Jungle

And we were made welcome, given tea and cake and biscuits, and shown around the camp, by a most remarkable Sudanese man who ran one of the little shops and cafes which have emerged to serve the needs of the camp residents. He also kept a store of tents and sleeping bags to give to new arrivals, who might turn up at any time of day or night; in an environment that might drive others to despair, he was a sign of hope.

And that was the strangest thing for me – that I was not driven to despair by visiting the Jungle. I felt I should be – but I wasn’t. In the Jungle I found signs of the antidote and opposite to despair, which is hope. Not foolish optimism – there’s no space for that. The situation of the people in the camp is by objective standards unbearable, and will only get worse as winter comes on. The political situation is stuck, with doors across Europe closing ever more firmly against refugees. But hope is about something else, and in these two characters, one Muslim and one Christian, I saw hope at work.

Christian hope is not unrealistic about the world – in fact, Christians have often got distracted from the hoped for kingdom by concentrating on the travails that come before its arrival. But that’s not meant to be our focus. The end of the world may look like it’s coming, but God’s salvation does not come to an end. Hope is not a fleeting emotion, like happiness after seeing a good film, or contentment after a good meal. As Vaclav Havel said, “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.” That is the call of the kingdom, too, to work for something that is good, regardless of the chances of its coming to be.

As Jesus told his disciples, we do not know when the Kingdom of God will arrive, neither the day nor the hour. But as the church year winds down, as we move into the darkest time of the year, we also turn once again to the anticipation of the season of Advent and all it foretells. We turn once again to hope in the Light of the World, the hope of our redemption, and the promise of God’s kingdom.