St Bride's: Sermons

The Same Difference

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Two events this last week show how powerful the awareness of difference is in our society - the religious differences that divide us highlighted one, by the Pope's decree allowing Anglo-Catholics to be received into the Roman Catholic Church (it'll be interesting to see how many take up the offer and just how Anglican some Anglo-Catholics suddenly discover themselves to be) and two, by the unpleasant sight of Nick Griffin of the BNP exploiting racial difference, to foster hatred and suspicion, on BBC's Question Time.

Both events were designed to emphasise the things that divide us rather than the things that unite us, when what we should be building on is our common Christian faith - Roman Catholics and Anglicans believe the same core fundamentals of faith - we recite the same creed, we believe in the same God. And all of us belong to the same human race, whatever our colour, creed or culture: we are all citizens of planet earth and are united in our shared humanity and as children of God. What unites us, at almost every level of existence is more powerful and important than what divides us.

Another story about division and hierarchy - this time from 2000 years ago: that incident in the Gospels when Jesus is having a conversation with James and John and he asks them "What do you want me to do for you?" And they reply "Jesus, when you are seated in your Kingdom, grant that one us can sit on your right and the other at your left in glory." They ask for places of prestige, something that emphasizes difference and hierarchy; and Jesus refuses them.

In the Gospel reading Mark 10: 46-52, Jesus puts the very same question to a blind beggar Bartimaeus - "What do you want me to do for you?" James and John were looking for status but Bartimaeus simply wanted his sight back. And this time Jesus grants his request. Bartimaeus already had enough faith to cry out "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me." If only he could see, he would actually be able to follow Jesus, to join his group of disciples. Mark records that he did follow Jesus 'on the way.'

So what would you reply if Jesus said to you "What do you want me to do for you?" In our divided and fractured world what should our priorities be? Squabbles between Christian churches about whose is the more authentic faith? Whose structures are better? Ugly and dangerous posturing by single-interest groups like the BNP who have no policies on anything that matters on the political agenda, and instead resort to fuelling hatred and exploiting difference and division?

Jesus was a remarkably unifying figure - he brought people together and helped them to see themselves in a new light, not as first or second class citizens, not as insiders or outsiders, not as Jews or Greeks, not as clean or unclean, male or female, good or bad; but as children of God and citizens of His Kingdom.

What would I ask of Jesus? To help me see beyond my prejudices and intolerances and the desire for status and recognition, and the fears and insecurities that go with all that: to see myself loved and accepted as I am by God as His child, made in His image: and, as I see that, to learn to love and accept others, so that I can follow better in the way of Jesus, as Bartimaeus did.

It took a 13th Century saint, Richard of Chichester, to put all this into a simple prayer which is still often used today.

"O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day."

May we make that prayer our own, this week and always.

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